The most recent version of the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index released on Tuesday shows that home prices hit new lows since values peaked nearly six years ago. The index registered a decline of 3.5%, in the 20 Metropolitan areas measured, compared to February of 2011. The 10-City Composite dropped 3.6 percent over the same period. The current home price index values have home values at their lowest levels since November of 2002.
The Metropolitan Statistical Areas of Atlanta, Charlotte (-1.8%), Cleveland, Chicago (-6.9%), Las Vegas (-8.5%) and New York (-3.0%) Portland (-3.0%), Seattle (-2.9%) and Tampa (-2.9%) all reached new lows in home value. Home prices in Atlanta have dropped for five straight months and plummet more than 17.3 percent between February 2011 and February 2012 --the biggest drop in the 20-year history of the index. Home values in Atlanta have fallen to 1998 price levels.
Signs of Market Bottom
Conversely, the decline in home values represents the smallest drop in home prices in 12 months. In January, prices declined by nearly 4 percent. Many economists see the news as a positive indication for the housing market because the momentum of falling homes prices has finally slowed down.
Twelve metropolitan regions realized an improvement in home prices. In January 10, cities in the index saw increases in price and 8 in December. Three cities registered positive gains for February 2012 – Phoenix (1.2%), Miami (0.6%) and San Diego (0.2%).
Chris Runkey (Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi) Michelle Meyer (Bank of America) and Mark Fleming (CoreLogic) believe that housing prices have nearly reached bottom. Since the market reached its zenith in July 2006, homes prices have declined an average of 35 percent. Home prices in Phoenix and Miami loss nearly 50 % off their highs.
New Home Sales Up
The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that on a year-to-year basis, new home sales rose 7.5 percent in March or an annual rate of 328,000 units. This figure surpassed the 319,000 rate predicted by economists polled in the Bloomberg survey. Bloomberg adjusted Figures for February up to a rate of 353,000 units—a 24 month high.
The National Association of Realtors reports the number of signed contracts to purchase home was up by one percent in March. The real estate home value site Trulia reports on their website that its housing measurement shows the market has climbed back to 32 percent of its “normal” activities as compared to a 23 percent reading of the barometer the prior year.
Foreclosures Impact the Market
Most market analysts agree that foreclosed properties continue to weigh down on home prices across the nation. Despite increased home sale figures since late last year, foreclosures, which usually sell at significant discounts compared to non-distressed properties, exerted downward pressure on prices.
Although foreclosure filings declined during the first quarter, to the lowest rate in four years, expect the number of foreclosures to increase as lenders work through the back log of delinquent homeowners.
The S&P/Case-Shiller home price index tracks the sale of existing homes, which includes foreclosure sales. The chief- economist for Zillow.com Stan Humphries said that foreclosure sale transactions made up around 20 percent of total home sales for February. Humphries says as long as the job market “keep pace” home sales will continue on an upward trajectory and slow the rate of home prices decline.
The consumer confidence index for April, 69.2 bode well for housing sales. More people expressed confidence about the job market, finding it easier to secure employment. Michelle Meyer says the regions of the country with low foreclosure rates and job expansion will lead the recovery for the rest of the country. She expects home prices to stabilize and remain flat through the end of 2013, before prices to gain around 2.5 percent start gaining in 2014.