Case-Shiller December 2010

Last week, Standard & Poor’s released its Case-Shiller Index for December 2010. The index is a home valuation tracker, meant to meausure the change in home prices from one period to the next.

December’s Case-Shiller Index showed major devaluations nationwide. As compared to December 2009, on a year-over-year basis, home values fell in 18 of the Case Shiller Index’s 20 tracked markets, and the U.S. National Index dropped 4 percent overall. 

The retreat puts December’s home values at similar levels as compared to early-2003.

That said, buyers and sellers would be wise to take the findings lightly. The Case-Shiller Index is inherently flawed. As such, its results are neither practical — nor relevant — to everyday Americans.

There are 3 Case-Shiller flaws, in fact.

The first flaw is the index’s limited sample set. Wikipedia lists 3,100+ municipalities nationwide and we can be certain that real estate is bought and sold in all of them. The Case-Shiller Index, however, measures just 20 of them. That’s less than 1% of all U.S. cities. And then, within those tracked cities, Case-Shiller reports an average, lumping disparate neighborhoods and streets into one big number.

The “national figures” aren’t really national, and the “city data” doesn’t apply to your home, specifically.

The second Case-Shiller Index flaw is how it measures home value changes. The index only consider at “repeat sales” of the same home, so long as that home is a single-family, detached property. Condominiums, multi-family homes, and new construction are ignored in the Case-Shiller Index.

Because distressed properties account for such a high percentage of resales lately — 36% in December –foreclosures and short sales skew Case-Shiller Index worse.

And, lastly, the Case-Shiller Index is flawed by “age”. Because it reports closed sales a 60-day delay, December’s Case-Shiller Index is measuring the values of home sales contracts from September and October. The Case-Shiller Index, therefore, is a snapshot of the not-so-recent past, and does little to tell us about the next 60 days.

Overall, the Case-Shiller Index is helpful tool for economists and policy-makers, but it doesn’t do much good for individual homeowners across the city of Henrico or anywhere else. For accurate, real-time housing data in your local market, talk to a real estate professional instead.

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Pending Home Sales July 2009 - January 2011After a strong run to close out 2010, the market for home resales softened a bit in January.

On a seasonally-adjusted basis, the Pending Home Sales Index dropped 3 percent last month, and December’s figures were revised downward for a loss, too, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

A “pending home sale” is defined as a home under contract to sell, but not yet closed. 

The forward-looking index is now at a 3-month low on a national level, but still well ahead of its rolling 6-month average.

Unfortunately, national data isn’t overly helpful for buyers and sellers of real estate. The National Association of REALTORS® knows this, of course, and makes an effort to get more granular, supplementing the Pending Home Sales Index report with a region-by-region breakdown

Between December and January, only the South Region increased in sales volume. The Midwest led the losers:

  • Northeast Region: -2.4%
  • Midwest Region : -7.3%
  • South Region : +1.4%
  • West Region : -5.2%

Even still, however, regional data remains too broad to be practical. The South Region, for example, is comprised of multiple states with thousands of cities and town. The housing market dynamics of a specific neighborhood in a specific regional city will differ from that of another neighborhood in another regional city.

Real estate data must be local to be relevant.

Overall, then, what may be most telling from January’s Pending Home Sales Index is how weather can influence results.

Most of the country faced drastic weather conditions in January, ranging from raging snowstorms to bitter cold. Events like that tend to put a damper on home sales, a contributing factor in why the number of new contracts fell.

Another reason is rising mortgage rates. Conforming and FHA rates rose week-by-week in January, robbing home buyers of 10% of their purchasing power. This, too, can slow down purchase activity as buyers adjust their expectations.

Looking forward, we should expect the Pending Home Sales Index to resume rising. Inclement weather doesn’t kill demand; it just delays it. And mortgage rates have settled somewhat. These two factors should help release pent-up demand just as the Spring Homebuying Season gets underway.

As more buyers enter the market, negotiation leverage will shift to home sellers, pressuring Midlothian home prices higher. The lowest prices of the year — and the cheapest financing — could be what you see today.

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New Home Sales (Jan 2010 - Jan 2011)

Not all housing reports are sunny, it seems.

In its monthly New Home Sales release, the U.S. Department of Commerce showed a 13 percent drop-off in annualized new construction sales between the months of December and January.

It’s the biggest one-month drop in New Home Sales since May 2010.

In addition, the supply of new homes for sale spiked higher to 7.9 months last month.  “Home supply” is defined as the amount of time it would take to sell the complete “for sale” inventory at the current pace of sales.

In December, the supply measured just 7.0 months,

Don’t fret the news, however. For buyers of new construction in Richmond , falling New Home Sales figures can be terrific. Weaker markets put pressure on the nation’s home builders to sell their respective homes more quickly. To reach that goal, builders often discount prices and/or offer free upgrades to buyers. 

Some of that action may already be in effect.

Despite falling volume, the New Home Sales report showed that new homes are selling faster than in recent months. The median time required to sell a newly-built home dropped to 7.8 months in January — a figure well below January 2010’s reading of 13.9 months.

It suggests that builders are getting better at locating buyers, and moving property.

Therefore, if you’re shopping for a new construction and see one worth buying, get to it. Not only will the home likely sell soon if it’s priced right, but an increase in mortgage rates will make the home more expensive to finance.

Every 0.250% increase to rates adds $15 monthly per $100,000 borrowed.

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Existing Home Supply (Jan 2010 - Jan 2011)Home resales rose another 2.7 percent last month, according to the National Association of REALTORS® monthly Existing Home Sales report.

An “existing home” is a home that’s been previously occupied and is not considered new construction.

The number of existing homes sold on a rolling 12-month basis is now at its highest point since May 2010, the month before the federal homebuyer tax credit ended. It’s also up some 40% since July 2010, the month after the tax credit ended.

But that’s not the biggest story in the Existing Home Sales report. The precipitous decline in home inventory deserves more attention.

At the current pace of sales, the complete, national home resale inventory will be sold in 7.6 months. This is close to 5 months faster as compared to last year’s peak, and well below the 2-year home supply average of 9.0 months. There more buyers in the market, it seems, and fewer homes from which they can choose.

Total home resale inventory is down to just 3.38 million homes nationwide — the fewest in 12 months.

There were other interesting statistics in the official Existing Home Sales report, including a break-down of purchases by buyer-type.

  • First-time buyers accounted for 29% of purchases, down from 33% in January
  • Repeat homebuyers accounted for 48% of purchases, up from 47% in January
  • Investors accounted for 23% of of purchases, up from 20% in January

In addition, distressed sales — foreclosures and short sales — made up 37 percent of the market.

Over the next few days, more housing data will hit the wires and it’s expected to show similar strength to January’s Existing Home Sales report. With falling supplies and a growing base of move-up buyers, home prices in Richmond and around the country are expected to rise in the coming months ahead.

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Housing starts September 2008 - August 2010Annualized Single-Family Housing Starts dropped 1 percent in January to 413,000 units nationwide, it’s lowest reading almost 2 years.

A “Housing Start” is defined as a home on which construction has started. 

Now, if you had only seen the Housing Starts story in the headlines today, you wouldn’t have known that single-family starts fell at all. It’s because of how the story is being reported.

Most commonly, newspaper headlines are reading something similar to “Housing Starts Jump 14.6%” with the lead paragraph making mention that “housing starts are at their highest levels in 4 years”.

It’s a true statement, but it’s misleading, too.

This is because, despite the Census Bureau reporting Housing Starts by property type — single-family, multi-family, and apartments — the media often lumps them into a single data set.

It’s a categorization that helps investors in homebuilder stocks, but it does little for everyday Midlothian home buyers. The huge majority of buyers aren’t buying multi-units or whole apartment buildings — they’re buying 1-unit homes.

Here’s how January’s Housing Starts broke down by type:

  • Single-Family Homes : Down 4,000 units, or -1%
  • 2-4 Unit Homes : Negligible change
  • Apartment Buildings : Up 46,000 units, or +80%

Clearly, the surge in Housing Starts can be attributed to the rapid rise in the 5-unit-or-more sector. Single-Family Starts were weak, by comparison.

Even with all of this noted, however, we can’t even be certain that the January Housing Starts data is accurate anyway. A footnote in the government’s report shows that, although single-family starts are said to have decreased 1 percent, the data’s margin of error is ±8.6%.

This means that the true Single-Family Housing Starts reading may be anywhere from -9.6% to +7.6%. The data is throw-away. Housing Starts may have actually increased in January, but we won’t know until revisions are offered later this year.

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NAHB HMI Index 2000-2011

Homebuilder confidence in the market for newly-built, single family homes appears stable as the spring buying season gets underway in Midlothian.

The confidence reading is recorded and reported monthly by the National Association of Homebuilders. For the 4th straight month, the group’s Housing Market Index reads 16.

As a market indicator, Housing Market Index has been tracked for more than twenty years and reports on a 1-100 scale. A value of 50 or better indicates “favorable conditions” for home builders.

HMI hasn’t read higher than 50 since April 2006.

Broken down, the Housing Market Index is actually a weighted composite of 3 separate surveys measuring current single-family sales; projected single-family sales; and foot traffic of prospective buyers.

February’s surveys showed slight improvement as compared to January, overall.

  • Single-Family Sales : 17 (+2 from from January)
  • Projected Single-Family Sales : 25 (+1 from January)
  • Buyer Foot Traffic : 12 (unchanged from January)

It’s notable that the current sales levels were higher in February, and that projected sales levels for the next 6 months are higher, too.

For home buyers Virginia across , this month’s Housing Market Index reading may foreshadow tougher negotiations in the months ahead with builders. The likelihood of getting discounts and free upgrades may be diminished as builders see their respective sales levels grow, and as the economy expands.

Coupled with rising mortgage rates, home buyer purchasing power may never be as high as it is today. 

Therefore, if your plans call for buying a newly-built home this year, think about moving up your time frame. Builder confidence appears to have bottomed. As it rises, so should home prices.

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