Home buyers looking> for a bottom in the real estate market may have been encouraged by housing data released earlier this week. Sales of existing homes rose 2.4% in May, according to the National Association of Realtors. The increase was a little less than most analysts had expected, but it represented the second straight month of improvement. Meanwhile, sales of new homes dipped 0.6% in May, continuing a trend of fairly flat months so far this year, according to data released by the Commerce Department.
Don t get too excited it s still too early to say the housing market bottomed out, analysts and economists say. Distressed properties still account for about a third of all sales, and 29% of sales were to first-time home buyers, who are currently benefiting from an $8,000 tax credit.
The sales trends are telling. You re not really seeing a lot of move-up buying, says Richard F. Moody, chief economist and director of research at Forward Capital, LLC. There are so many vacant homes and so many foreclosures that [there s] not the normal trade-up pattern that you would have traditionally seen, Moody says.
Housing prices fell nationwide during the first quarter, according to Standard & Poor s Case-Shiller Index. The decline appears to be slowing: in February and March, the annual rate of decline did not set a new record, but home owners should take little solace in those numbers. Based on the March data we see no evidence that that a recovery in home prices has begun, David M. Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at Standard & Poor s, said in a statement.
All of this less-than-terrible news has left analysts cautiously optimistic that much of the country will start to see housing prices rise sometime in the next year or two. Looking at the nation as a whole, today through the spring of 2011 may be the window for those looking to buy a house at the bottom of the market, says Gary Hager, president and founder of Integrated Wealth Management, a New Jersey-based financial planning company.
A few markets where the housing crisis started earliest have already shown signs of bottoming out. Early-suffering cities like Denver and Boston are now seeing slower declines in home prices, which could indicate they re already poised for a comeback.
And in some areas, buyers have seized on rapidly falling prices. Existing-home sales rose 9% in the Midwest in May, according to the National Association of Realtors.
There will be regional differences in the turnaround, says Maureen Maitland, vice president of index services at Standard & Poor s. Most economists I talk to are expecting the beginning of the turnaround to be sometime next year, she says. However, she added, the last market may not turn around for two or three years.
For those hoping to buy at the best possible price, we ve got a list of five cities where home prices may still have farther to fall. But keep in mind, getting a house at a discount is still not necessarily a house you can afford.
In light of the housing market boom and bust, consumers should feel very comfortable financially before deciding to buy, says Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. They should not try to overstretch their budget to get their dream home.
Housing prices fell 4.9% in Detroit in March, according to the latest reading of the Case-Shiller Index. That marked the city s largest monthly decline since January 1991, when S&P s backlogged data begin. Houses in Detroit are currently selling at 1995 prices and with prices still falling so fast, it s hard to say when the city will rejoin the 21st century.
Detroit is Detroit because of the auto industry, says Maitland. The whole Midwest is hurting from car companies woes, but Detroit is hurting the most.
Anyone who was hoping to see Wall Street suffer from the financial crisis can relax. New York may have avoided the nationwide implosion in home prices early on, but the city saw its largest-ever monthly decline in March, at 2.5%.
New York may not be out of the woods, Maitland says. Because of what s going on with the financial markets and the layoffs on Wall Street, New York may be one of the last places to turn around.
Home prices in Phoenix have fallen 53% from their peak in June 2006, and the 2009 data suggest they ve got farther to go. In March, prices in Phoenix fell 4.5%.
The Southwest has been one of the hardest-hit regions in the mortgage crisis. The region still faces a glut of recently-built homes.
In Phoenix, you had some of the worst excesses, in terms of overbuilding, Moody says. The surplus of houses is so great that it could take two or three years for prices to turn around. However, a steady influx of new residents into the region suggests the long-term prospects for the market are sound, he says.
4) Portland, Ore.
In the Northwest, median home prices are down but they remain above the national average. Portland s prices fell 2.1% in March. Home prices in Seattle were down 2.0% for the month.
Portland s still going down, says Dave McCarthy, president and chief executive of Integrated Asset Services, a real estate valuation and asset disposition and management company that collects data on the housing market.
The city has remained pretty strong but they re starting to feel some of the effects, he adds.
The local labor market may be playing a role, Moody says. Portland s unemployment rate was 11.6% in April, according to the Department of Labor. That s well above the national average for the month (8.9%).
The Pacific Northwest bubble was among the last to burst, which could mean the market will be among the last to recover.
Housing prices in Minneapolis fell 6.1% in March, the largest monthly decline of any metro area since data tracking began in 1987.
More than half of all March home sales in Minneapolis were due to foreclosure or short-sale activity, according to the Federal Reserve Board s Beige Book, which gathers information on regional economic conditions. Foreclosed homes tend to drive prices down because the bank s best interest is to get the asset off their books as quickly as possible, Maitland says.