Hurricane Sandy Aftermath May Be Good for Homebuyers


By Brian O'Connell

Hurricane Sandy is barely a whisper over the North Atlantic right now, but the damage done by the storm will be felt for weeks, and maybe even months, to come.

According to the Oakland, Calif.-based economic forecasting firm Eqecat, Sandy will result in anywhere between $30 billion and $50 billion in financial damages, most of it in New York and New Jersey.

Eqecat had low-balled the financial damage to between $10 billion and $20 billion before the storm hit land, but upped its estimate after extensive structural damage was seen in New York City, the nation's financial center. There, subways and tunnels were flooded, massive power outages were widespread and businesses closed for up to five days.

Related: Hit by the Storm? Know What Your Home Insurance Covers

Down the line, Eqecat expects New York, at 34 percent, to absorb most of the financial losses from the storm, with New Jersey (30 percent) and Pennsylvania (20 percent) close behind.

There's not much of a silver lining amid the carnage wrought by Sandy, but one real estate analyst says that Sandy could be a "catalyst" for lower interest rates. That could help borrowers seeking credit, although it would hurt bank savers, who are getting grimly accustomed to lower interest rates.

That analyst is Barry Habib, chief market strategist at Residential Finance, a Columbus-based real estate service firm.

Habib cites the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report, released Friday, as a harbinger of lower rates. But the rolling thunder brought by Sandy could really grease the skids, he says.

"It was a pretty good jobs report. However, when you look at the average workweek and the hours worked on a weekly level, you are seeing a decline in the amount of income," Habib says. "While a report like this would normally lead to higher interest rates and better stock prices, that isn't happening today. In fact, we are seeing the reverse, where the rates are very modestly improving and the stocks are declining. The reason is probably on the stock side, due to the fears of the impact of Hurricane Sandy, which will clearly have some negative impact on the economy, and there is some anticipation of that happening."

Related: How to Recover from Hurricane Sandy

Much of his reasoning for lower rates in the wake of Sandy is the Federal Reserve and its ongoing bond market stimulus program. Habib says any inclination to pull back on economic stimulus will go by the wayside now that Sandy has hit the East Coast.

"Part of the reason why bond prices are improving due to this news points to two things: We already know the Feds are buying mortgage bonds, which is helping [mortgage-backed security] pricing and keeping interest low," he adds. "I think you will be hard pressed to see the Feds taking their foot off the gas pedal when you see a devastating event like Hurricane Sandy creating a terrible drag on the economy."

For the housing market, that could mean good and bad news, Habib says, depending if you're a buyer or a seller.

"If I am a homebuyer or someone looking to refinance, this probably is good news for the longer term for interest rates to remain low; it also may create -- based on the psychological effects of this terrible storm -- a temporary drag on housing, which means this is a time period where people could get additional value," Habib says.

Should homebuyers dive in now and take advantage of the unfortunate aftermath of Sandy? Habib thinks so. Rates can't go much lower, and the Federal Reserve won't have a heavy boot on the stimulus gas pedal forever, he says.

For homebuyers, and for credit-needy consumers in general, Sandy may be a unique opportunity to save on a loan. That's hardly comforting to the millions of Americans who suffered from the storm, but that's how economics work.

In other words, one consumer's storm is another consumer's opportunity.

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