Has the market hit bottom yet?

I have to admit that after offering definitively optimistic analyses about the housing market after the meltdown, I now answer housing market questions tentatively. The tentative answer is not for a lack of optimism (the local market has shown strength in the last year where other regions continue to languish at best); however current analyses are tentative because rather than making a decision to buy or sell a home strictly on the strength of the market, consumers also need to be aware of personal goals and preferences.

Sure, if you look at some of the housing market indicators, such as the S&P/Case Shiller Home Price Index and the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) existing home sale report, national data are conflicting and may not yet indicate a solid recovery (although the Washington, D.C. regional data has shown strength).

The last S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index (standardandpoors.com) data that was released March 29th indicated that national home prices have not fared well for January 2011. However, it must be pointed out that as home prices slid across most of the country, the Washington, D.C. region’s home prices revealed an annual increase of 3.6%.

The NAR’s February existing home sale report released March 21st indicated a further decline for the number of homes that sold compared to the same time the previous year. However, the Washington, D.C. region was reported to have increased in home sales but decreased in home prices compared to the same time the previous year. We are anxiously waiting for this month’s report, which is scheduled to be released this week (realtor.org).

Additionally, the April NAHB/Wells Fargo Home Market Index (HMI) fell to 16; as reported in the April 18th press release by the National Association of Home Builders (nahb.org). The HMI is a scale from 0 to 100 that rates builder sentiment across the country (the lowest index reported was 9 in 2009; the highest index was 77 reported in the late 1990’s). NAHB Chairman Bob Nielsen was reported as saying in the press release, “While builders in some areas are starting to see a pickup in traffic of prospective home buyers, many consumers remain skittish about the health of the housing market and overall economy, particularly in view of recent legislative and regulatory proposals that could make it much harder to get a mortgage…”

Economists and other housing experts remain conflicted about sources for the continued issues facing the national housing market. Some point to continued problems with distressed home sales, which include foreclosures and short sales; while others continue to point to unemployment. The reality is that these economic factors are just a part of a larger puzzle. Other economic forces that can affect consumer sentiment and the housing market can range from mortgage regulation (as recognized by Bob Neilson of the NAHB) all the way to energy shocks and policy (one of Shell’s energy scenarios named “Scramble” predicts major global economic difficulties as early as 2020 unless serious energy policies are undertaken).

Has the housing market bottomed out? Macro-economic factors may indicate that housing could continue to manifest symptoms of a labile global economy; while micro-economic factors might indicate a completely different picture. For someone contemplating buying or selling a home, the answer is probably more of a personal reflection combined with local and hyper-local housing data.

By Dan Krell Copyright © 2011

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