The housing market lost value in the most recent year as prices drifted lower. What will it take to turn the market around?
The housing market posted an annual decline of 3.9 percent even as home prices remained essentially flat in the third quarter of 2011, according to the latest U.S. National Home Price Index released today by S&P/Case-Shiller.
“Home prices drifted lower in September and the third quarter,” said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Index. “Any chance for a sustained recovery will probably need a stronger economy.”
Three cities – Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix - posted new index lows in September, a trend that Blitzer calls disturbing. He said, “For the prior three or four months, only Las Vegas was weakening each month. Now, Atlanta and Phoenix have fallen to new lows too.”
For the most part prices declined gradually, said Blitzer, indicating the plunging declines of 2007 to 2009 are over. Seventeen of the 20 metropolitan areas measured by S&P/Case-Shiller saw declines, while the housing market improved in two metro areas. Prices rose 3.7 percent in Washington, DC, and 1 percent in Detroit, which saw its third consecutive month of improvement.
The S&P/Case-Shiller Indices are designed to track pricing trends for a typical single-family home in each metropolitan area studied. Another measure of home prices, the Federal Housing Finance Authority’s Home Price Index measured a 0.2 percent gain in the third quarter of this year, but a year-over-year loss of 3.7 percent. After adjusting for inflation, home prices fell 8.1 percent over the latest year, according to data released today by the finance authority. The index uses pricing information from mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to purchase or refinance a home.
“While most housing markets still face stiff headwinds, the fact that some beleaguered states – such as Idaho, Florida and Utah - saw quarterly price increases is a positive development,” said Andrew Leventis, principal economist for the finance authority. The recent boom in commodities prices helped stabilize the housing market in states and counties where mining and oil extraction takes place.
Sales of new single-family homes rose by 1.3 percent in the month of October, according to data released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The median sales price of new homes sold in October was $212,300 and the average sales price was $242,300.
“Builders have been seeing some marginal improvement in sales activity over the past few months, particularly in select markets where consumer confidence is higher due to improved economic conditions,” said Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders.
The recent trend is encouraging, said Nielsen, but overall sales activity remains well below normal. Overly tight credit conditions for builders and buyers, a continued flow of distressed properties on to the market and inaccurate appraisals are key factors constraining new home sales. The nationwide inventory of new homes for sale held at 162,000 units in October. The number represents a 6.3-month supply at the current housing market sales pace.