Rob Binkley is the last guy who’d be inclined to sugarcoat Valley real estate. As a founding owner of EZ Homes – one of the largest foreclosure acquisition and resale companies in Arizona – the longtime real estate pro tends to get busy when home values plummet. Such was the case back in 2007, when the collapse of the housing bubble triggered a five-year flood of mortgage walk-offs and deed auctions. Binkley, also an avid traveler who penned the backpacker memoir Let’s Go Mad (Skyhorse, 2016), put down his snorkel for a few moments to weigh in on today’s near-record housing prices. Bubble or no bubble?
PHOENIX: Obviously, the current market is in much better shape today than it was in, say, 2012. Do you see fewer homes come up for auction?
Binkley: Oh, it’s not even close. We’re looking at probably on average per day in Maricopa County… in terms of what is actually being put up for auction, maybe two to five homes a day. Back in 2012, it was probably 40 or 50 a day.
But that can change in a heartbeat, right? Home prices are so high right now, it stands to reason there are a lot of over-extended homeowners with mortgages they can’t really afford. Could that constitute a bubble?
I think it’s unlikely, primarily for one reason: more stable lending. It’s interesting, back [in 2009] there wasn’t a conduit to save people… there were a lot of stated loans, unverified loans, subprime loans. They got rid of all of that after the crash. Now, because the loans are very secure, with a lot of money down, and the interest rates are 3 to 4 percent on a 30-year-fixed, which is historically very low, nobody is walking away from those loans.
But mortgage rates have gone up, haven’t they? To 6 or 7 percent.
They have, but only in the last 12 months. The majority of [extant] loans are in the 3- to 4-percent range. And there are very few people underwater.
Could those new interest rates trigger a home value correction?
I don’t see that happening. We had a correction from last May to December. In some places, [home prices] went down 10 percent. Then the new year hit and the market stiffened up. I read something interesting the other day: The Valley gets something like 150 people net inflow every day. That creates demand. 150 new people every day wanting a house. And unemployment is still incredibly low. [The only thing] I’m really worried about is a macro-event. Putin or a banking meltdown, that triggers a recession. Other than that, it seems secure.