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Case-Shiller October 2010

The Case-Shiller Index posted awful numbers in its most recent reading. Each of the index’s 20 tracked markets showed home price deterioration between September’s and October’s respective reports. Some markets fell as much as 2.9 percent.

The drop in values is nothing about which to panic, however. The Case-Shiller Index is just re-reporting what we already knew. It’s a common theme with the Case-Shiller Index, actually; a trait traced to the report’s methodology.

The Case-Shiller Index is an imperfect housing indicator with 3 inherent flaws.

The first flaw is that the index makes use of a limited data set, tracking values in just 20 cities nationwide. That data set is then projected across the more than 3,100 other municipalities in the United States. The “national figures”, therefore, aren’t really national.

The second flaw is that, even within the tracked 20 cities, not all home sales are included. The Case-Shiller Index only tracks sales of single-family, detached homes, and within that market subset, it only uses homes that are “repeat sales”. This specifically excludes sales of condominiums and multi-family homes, and new construction.

Lastly, Case-Shiller Index’s third flaw is its “age”. The Case-Shiller Index reports on a 60-day delay, and the values it reports are tied to contracts written even longer ago.  Sales contracts from July and August are responsible for October’s closings so when we see the Case-Shiller Index as reported in December, some of the data it’s reporting is 5 months old already. That’s too old to be relevant.

Looking back at 2010, housing was at its weakest between May and August. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the most recent Case-Shiller Index shows significant weakness.  Looking forward, we should expect the report to improve — especially because of how strong New Home Sales and Existing Home Sales have been since summer.

The Case-Shiller Index is helpful for economists and policy-makers. It’s not much good for individual homeowners, however. For accurate, real-time housing data, talk to a real estate professional instead.

Case-Shiller Change In Home Values September 2009-2010

Standard & Poors released the September Case-Shiller Index Tuesday. The Case-Shiller Index is a home-value tracker. The report shows home prices down 0.7% from August and values fading, in general.

Case-Shiller representatives assessed the findings as “another weak report; weaker than last month”, citing deterioration in 18 of 20 tracked markets. Upward pricing momentum from the summer is slowing and values remain 30% off the market’s June 2006 peak. It could spell bad news for home sellers this winter.

That said, the Case-Shiller Index is imperfect; its methodology flawed. The index is not meant for use by individual buyers or sellers — for 3 reasons.

First, the Case-Shiller Index reports on a 2-month delay. Today is December 1 and we’re discussing data from September. In the 8 weeks since, the economy has shifted to a net jobs gainer, and the Federal Reserve has committed to $600 billion in re-investment.  These are major developments that weren’t a part of September’s housing market, but are relevant today.

Especially because employment is largely believed to be a keystone to housing.

Second, the Case-Shiller sample set is limited to just 20 cities nationwide. This means that most U.S. home sales are specifically not included in the Case-Shiller Index’s monthly findings.

And that ties into reason number three — all real estate is local. No matter what the Case-Shiller Index says about the country, what matters to your local market is what’s happening in your local market. Each neighborhood has its own housing economy and that’s something that can’t be captured by a national report.

Case-Shiller Change In Home Values June-July 2010

Why are we reading about data that is two months old?  I guess because it’s published, and we look everywhere for validation of our own opinions.  In this case, it’s pretty much not helpful.   For sure, real estate markets are extremely local, so take this with a grain of salt:

For the 17th straight month, the Case-Shiller Index reports that home values are rising across the United States. As compared to June, July’s prices were up by 4 percent.

However, despite the improvement, July’s Case-Shiller Index showed weaker as compared to prior months.

  • In June, just 3 cities posted year-to-year reductions in home value. In July, 10 of 20 did.
  • In June, just 1 city posted a month-to-month reduction in home value. In July, 7 of 20 did.

As a spokesperson for Case-Shiller said, values “crept forward” in July. But not that it matters — the Case-Shiller Index is a better tool for economists than it is for homeowners. This is for 3 reasons.

First, the Case-Shiller Index is on a 60-day delay but real estate sales are based on prices today. A lot can change in 60 days, and it often does. Therefore, the Case-Shiller Index is a better snapshot of the former market than the current one.

Second, the Case-Shiller Index is geographically-limited. It tracks just 20 cities, ignoring some of the largest metropolitan areas in the country including Houston, Philadelphia, and San Jose. Smaller cities like Tampa are included.

And, lastly, national real estate data remains somewhat useless anyway. All real estate is local, rendering citywide statistics too broad to have any real meaning to an individual. To find out what’s happening on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood level, you can’t look to a national survey — you have to look to a local real estate agent instead.

Home Price Index from April 2007 peak

This is a good case for drawing your own conclusions – speak to local real estate agents and investors you trust, and remember, the market can change within a half mile drive…Read on…..

The private-sector Case-Shiller Index reported home values up 5 percent nationwide in June. The government’s own Home Price Index, however, reached a different conclusion.

According to the Federal Home Finance Agency, month-to-month home values fell 0.3 percent in June, and values are down by 1.7 percent from June 2009.

So, as a home buyer and/or homeowner , by which valuation model should you make your bets?  Perhaps neither.

This is because both the Case-Shiller Index and the Home Price have inherent methodology flaws, the most glaring of which is their respective sample sets.

The Case-Shiller sample set, for example, comes from just 20 cities across the country — and they’re not even the 20 most populated cities. Together, the Case-Shiller cities represent just 9 percent of the overall U.S. population.

That’s hardly representative of the housing stock overall.

By comparison, the Home Price Index tracks home sales everywhere — every city in every state — but it specifically excludes certain properties.  The Home Price Index does not track sales of homes for which the financing comes from agencies other than Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. This means that as FHA loans grow in popularity, the pool of Home Price Index-eligible homes is reducing.

The HPI ignores homes backed by “jumbo” loans, too.

Therefore, the “right” model for home values cannot come from national data at all — it can only come locally. Neither Case-Shiller nor the government has the tools to get as granular as a neighborhood. A real estate agent in the area does, however.

The best way to get a pulse for what’s happening in markets right now is to talk to somebody with good data.

Case-Shiller Change In Home Values May-June 2010

According to the Standard & Poors Case-Shiller Index, home values rose 5 percent in June versus the month prior, and 4 percent from a year earlier.  It’s the 16th consecutive month in which Case-Shiller reported an increase in home values and the third straight month of outstanding results.

That said, homeowners and home buyers would do well to temper Case-Shiller enthusiasm. The June figures are issued on 60-day delay and, over the last 60 days, housing data has been lackluster at best.

This makes sense.  The prices were up while the Tax credit was driving demand.  Now there is no urgency, so prices will fall with demand, just like the number of sales.  So there are more deals available from motivated sellers and from banks, because the forces driving an end buyer to buy now have evaporated.

Stories like these highlight a key weakness of the Case-Shiller Index — it’s out of date as soon as it’s published. Because of this, the Case-Shiller Index relevance to everyday Americans is muted. People don’t buy homes in the “60 days ago” real estate market, after all.

June is ancient real estate history.

However, the Case-Shiller Index does have its place. As the most widely-followed, private-sector housing tracker, the index is used to help make policy decisions and to shape Wall Street’s expectations of the economy. This means that a strong Case-Shiller reading can cause mortgage rates to rise, and a weak Case-Shiller reading can cause rates to fall.

Tuesday, mortgage rates fell.