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US Residential Real Estate Recovery: Has the Market Reached Bottom?

Written By:
March 03, 2011 at 4:22 PM

Low mortgage interest rates and residential real estate values have not attracted the level of mortgage refinancing and mortgage applications that signal a truer rebound of the US housing market. Many housing industry analysts and professionals agree that housing prices must hit bottom before the market stabilizes and upward. The Case–Shiller Home Price Indices, which released its latest report on February 22, 2011, measures home values around the nation.

Besides tracking fixed and adjustable mortgage interest rates to gauge whether or not to enter the market, homebuyers and investors can employ data from the Case–Shiller Home Price Indices to assess whether national and local markets have bottomed and can finally start on the road to recovery sometime in 2011.

What Is the S&P Case–Shiller Home Price Indices?

Named after economists Karl Case, Robert Shiller, who developed the tool along with fellow economist Allan Weiss, the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices compile data on the repeat sale of single-family homes to compute and track residential housing price trends. Standard & Poors calculates the report and publishes it on the last Tuesday of the month. Case–Shiller Home Price Indices measures changes in the total value of existing single-family homes across the United States.

The indices measure growth or decline in the market value of residential housing at the low, middle and high tiers of the market. The indices do not include the sale prices of new construction, condominiums, cooperatives, or multifamily apartment buildings. The three indices calculated are:

  • National Home Price Index
  • 20-Metropolitan Area Composite Index
  • 10- Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA)Composite Index (the original metro index)

The National Home Price Index tracks the value of single-family home prices for the nine US Census divisions. The government calculates census data quarterly. The three composite home indices follow the total value of single-family homes for the cities that comprise the metro areas.

Case–Shiller Home Price Indices: February 2011

The latest S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices showed home price continuing their downward path, dropping 3.9% during the 4th quarter ending December 2010. This represented a 3.7% dropped over the previous year. The National Home Price Index decrease of 4.1% (December 2010) registered the lowest values since the third quarter ending September 2009. The composites and 18 MSAs declined from December 2009 levels. Two cities, San Diego and Washington DC, boasted increases in home values of +1.7% and +4.1% in December 2010.

Generally, areas measured in the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices tend to decline in lock step throughout the residential housing market downturn covering 2006-2009. This last report shows a break in this tendency. For example, California has experienced some improvements as San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco made gains in prices from the lows hit during the market’s decline. Charlotte, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Chicago and Washington DC showed price increases from November to December 2010. Five of these cities still have negative annual rates, but improved over the previous month.

Dallas remained above its low point established in February 2009. The following cities showed new lows: Seattle, Miami, Phoenix, Tampa Atlanta, Charlotte, Portland OR, and Las Vegas hit new lows in December. Eleven Metropolitan Statistical Areas dropped to their lowest index rating since the height of the real estate boom in 2006 in December. These areas are as follows: Seattle, Tampa, Atlanta, Charlotte, Detroit, Miami, New York, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Portland (OR), and Chicago.

Nine of the above MSAs had reached previous lows in November; Phoenix and New York joined the list in December. In total, 19 MSAs, the 10, and 20-city composite indexes have displayed a negative trend for three consecutive months.

The blend of low home value and mortgage interest rates have led to a rise in applications for mortgage refinances and new mortgages Nonetheless, the overall housing market continues to exhibit weaknesses.

Is the Bottom Near?

Data accumulated by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) indicates more buyers taking advantage of low mortgage interest rates and home values, as 5.36 million single-family homes, cooperatives and condominiums sold in January. This represented a 2.7% increase over units sold in December and the 5.09 million units that changed hands in January 2009. According to the NAR, 32% of the buyers used mostly cash to close the deals.

Before celebrating a possible end to declining home values, buyers must keep a vigilant watch on home mortgage interest rates and the two “wildcards” -- the economy and foreclosures.





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