Homes are undervalued by $6,000?

Rather than try an idea that might work and has the added benefit of extending liberty, President Obama unveiled his $75,000,000,000 plan to rescue us from the foreclosure crisis. Presumably Obama’s plan is precise and complicated, but Doug Mataconis has a succinct explanation at The Liberty Papers for why this plan will fail. His entire post is worth reviewing because he gives a concise summary of the various incentive problems involved, but his basic, widely-applicable conclusion is this:

Most of all, this part of the plan seems to be aimed at the idea that the government must reinflate the housing bubble so that housing prices return to the “correct” level.

Here’s a clue, though. The only “correct” price for your house is the price that someone is willing to pay for it. Today.

Exactly. As much as I’d love to be able to sell my house for what I paid for it in 2005, that’s not where the market is at in 2009. That is unfortunate, but the only way the government can help me is to get out of the way and allow the market to stabilize itself. They’re self-correcting that way. It’s a little lot painful, yes, and, although I bought what I could afford rather than what the bank was willing to lend me, I still made my choice despite the warnings. Lesson learned. And I wish it wasn’t so, but pain is how most people will have to learn. Buffeting them from that only prolongs the faulty thinking.

Unfortunately, even in the misguided belief that propping up the market is an effective method for stabilizing it, President Obama’s plan ignores the reality of the market. It appears to be nothing more than Do Something at its worst.

“The plan I’m announcing focuses on rescuing families who have played by the rules and acted responsibly: by refinancing loans for millions of families in traditional mortgages who are underwater or close to it,” Obama said at a speech in Mesa, Ariz. The White House released an early transcript.

Those of us who played by the rules are those of us who bought what we could afford and continue to pay for what is not worth what we owe. We don’t need or want to be “rescued”. Giving me money that you will extract from me later through taxes is hardly a bargain worth applauding.

If the plan rescues people like me:

Finance companies cannot currently refinance a loan if the homeowner owes more than 80 percent of the home’s value. But under the plan, Fannie and Freddie — which were taken over by the government last year — would be able to refinance a mortgage if it does not exceed 105 percent of the current value of the property. For example, if the value of the borrower’s property is $200,000, but the homeowner owes $210,000, he or she could still qualify for the program. The program will not launch until March 4.

The housing market in America is far worse than a 1.05 loan-to-current-value ratio. I’d flip cartwheels up-and-down my street if I had a 1.05 ratio. I think most people with negative equity are in the same situation. (If the administration knows something to the contrary, now might be a good time to provide that information.) This plan hardly seems a response to that, under the not-conceded belief that the government should get further involved. President Obama wants to add further government involvement and debt to rescue people who would lose no more than 5% if they sell today? A homeowner who can’t cover a 5% loss shouldn’t own a home. A homeowner with a ratio larger than 1.05 will apparently see no benefit.

Maybe the theory is that propping up home values by the claimed $6,000 will grease the market into action. That’s unlikely, at best, but it’s not the claim the administration is making. This plan gets us nowhere other than $75 billion further in debt, with a more-entrenched, market-distorting incentive system.