With the National Association of Realtors announcing Monday that existing home sales for 2012 outpaced 2011 by more than 9 percent, and posting the highest volume since 2007, there’s a case to be made that a national housing recovery is underway. The national median price is up by double digits, the trade group said, and inventory is down – all favorable conditions for sellers.
December new home sales are due to be reported Friday by the U.S. Census Bureau, adding another dimension to the residential real estate snapshot, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s home price index is expected on Wednesday. All of which makes it worthwhile to spend some time pondering residential real estate angles for the months leading into the much-watched spring selling season.
First, does your region reflect the national trends? Sellers buoyed by the U.S.-wide stats might be sobered to find that local market conditions are somewhat different. Here’s a Forbes report “Housing recovery is more complicated than you think,” based on the Realtor.com Real Estate Trends report for 146 metropolitan statistical areas. As Forbes reports, in some markets, home prices still are posting severe price drops. It would be interesting to replicate the study across your region, by city or neighborhood depending on the size of your market. Multiple-listing agencies may not want to trumpet which areas are in decline (though perhaps they’d appreciate the appeal to bargain hunters) but perhaps at least anecdotally you can get agents and brokers to talk about sales trends across the spectrum in your market.
Lenders, title companies, appraisers and home inspectors – as well as builders of new construction – may also help pinpoint the characteristics of what’s selling, and what’s not, in your area. Where can buyers still find bargains and which sellers are having the easiest time turning a profit, or at least swimming to the surface of an underwater loan? Anecdote alert: I was chatting with a local builder the other day and he grumbled that it’s more and more difficult to find houses that are cheap enough to buy, fix up and sell at a gain — another barometer of home price activity, perhaps, and one you might follow up on with independent builders who’ve been flipping foreclosures and other distressed properties. The NAR report Tuesday said 12 percent of December sales were foreclosures and 12 percent were short sales.
I reiterate a suggestion from previous blog posts: Why not kick off a longitudinal project this month, following some aspect of the residential real estate market from January to December? You could track activity at one or two real estate firms, as a snapshot of what’s happening locally. Or enlist some sellers to allow you to chronicle their home-selling saga. What did they invest in order to make it marketable? How many lookers, open houses, offers, price changes, etc. did they go through until a sale was closed? If you pick an interesting cross-section of the region, their experiences could give other readers food for thought along the way.
Meanwhile, one other angle you might want to look at: The career aspect for real estate workers. Check with your state about stats for real estate license holders – how have they waxed and waned as licenses were sought, gained, lapsed, expired and renewed over the past decade? Here’s a neat column from the Orange County Register that gets at the idea — it says 231,000 licenses lapsed in California during the slump. Could an uptick in renewals or new applications be a ‘quirky indicator’ of the state of real estate in your region? (Check with real-estate license schools, too, about demand.)