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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.

Existing Home Supply (Nov 2009 - Nov 2010)Existing Home Sales jumped another 6 percent in November, the report’s third month of improvement since bottoming in July.

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, a quarter-million more existing homes were sold during the annual period ending in November as compared to October.  An “existing home” is a home that cannot be considered new construction.

Additionally, the national housing supply dropped by a full month. At the current pace of existing home sales, the complete stock of homes for sale will be exhausted in 9.5 months.

November’s strong housing data is yet another signal to buyers that the housing market’s foundation has been rebuilt, and that a rebound is imminent.  It’s helped that there are great “deals” on which for buyers to pounce.

In November, short sales and foreclosures accounted for one-third of all existing homes sold, and carried an average price discount of 10 percent and 15 percent, respectively, as compared to non-distressed sales.

Repeat buyers continue to power the market, too, representing more than half of all home buyers.

  • First-time buyers : 32% of all buyers
  • Investors : 19% of all buyers
  • Repeat buyers : 51% of all buyers

This breakdown suggests that housing has regained its footing. First-time buyers can’t support a market long-term like repeat buyers can and, as compared to 12 months ago, the percentage of repeat buyers is now up 14 points.

Home buyers take note. Raw sales volume is rising and available inventory is dropping. Basic supply-and-demand tells us that this will lead home prices higher. Furthermore, mortgage rates are rising quickly, increasing the cost of homeownership.

If buying a home is a part of your plan for 2011, consider accelerating your purchase time frame. Existing homes account for more than 80% of homes sold nationwide. If the market keeps improving like this, your home affordability will worsen.

Home Affordability - Top and Bottom 5 markets 2010 Q3

Last quarter, with home prices still relatively low and mortgage rates making new, all-time lows almost weekly, the cost of home ownership was extraordinarily low in New Hampshire and most U.S. markets.

According to the National Association of Home Builders’ quarterly Home Opportunity Index, 72.5 percent of all new and existing homes sold between June-September 2010 were affordable to families earning the national median income. This ties the all-time high for home affordability, set in the first quarter of 2009.

The data also underscores that, when compared to historical norms, it’s a fantastic time to be a home buyer.

Prior to 2009, the Home Opportunity Index rarely topped 65. The index has remained above 70 ever since.

All real estate is local, though, and on a city-by-city basis, home affordability varied last quarter.

For example, 96% of homes sold in Kokomo, IN are affordable for families earning the area’s median income. This handily beat the average figure and led the nation. Looking at major cities, Indianapolis led the pack.

93% of homes in Indianapolis are affordable to families earning the area’s median income. This ranks #9 nationwide.

On the opposite end of the affordability scale is the New York-White Plains, NY-Wayne, NJ region. For the 10th consecutive quarter, the New York Metro region ranks last in U.S. home affordability. Just 23% of homes are affordable to families earning the local median income, although this is 3 points higher versus Q1 2010.

The rankings for all 225 metro areas are available online.

Regardless of where your hometown ranks relative to its neighbors, home affordability remains high as compared to historical values. That said, with mortgage rates rising and home sales expected to climb this winter, it’s unlikely that the Home Opportunity Index will improve.

Buying a home may never be this inexpensive again. If you planned to buy in mid-2011, consider moving up your time frame.

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.

So according to this article, prices are set to rise.  But if you look at regional data, then it doesn’t apply to us.  And what we really need to look at is local data.  Does anyone think the market at Lake Winnipesaukee is the same as the market in Brockton?  Read on….

Pending Home Sales (Feb 2009 - August 2010)Consistent with calls of a housing rebound, the Pending Home Sales Index rose again in August. It marks the second straight month of improvement after May’s post-tax credit drop-off.

A “pending home” is an existing home under contract to sell, but not yet closed.

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, 4 out of 5 pending homes close within 60 days, and many more close within 90 days. For this reason, the Pending Home Sales Index is an excellent forward-indicator for housing.

As a real-life illustration, after July’s 27% plunge to an 11-year low, Existing Home Sales recovered 8 percent in August. This was not a surprise, though, because July’s Pending Home Sales Index predicted it.

Region-by-region, the Pending Home Sales Index varied in August, suggesting better sales levels in the South and West markets:

  • Northeast : -2.9% from July
  • Midwest : +2.1% from July
  • South : +6.7% from July
  • West : + 6.4% from July

That said, real estate markets aren’t “regional” — they’re local. Just as there are improving markets within the Northeast Region, there’s worsening markets in the West.

Overall, buyers are being drawn into housing by low mortgage rates, affordable homes, and ample supply. If the August Pending Home Sales Index is foreshadowing the fall housing market, home prices appear slated to rise.

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.

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.

Existing Home Sales July 2009 - July 2010The number of home resales plunged by 1.4 million units in July, according to the National Association of Realtors®’ Existing Home Sales report.

It’s a drop of 27 percent from June; single-family home resales are at the report’s lowest levels since May 1999.  That’s over 11 years ago.

For investors, it is a good news / bad news scenario:  Good news that buying is even easier.  Bad news that selling is harder after you have rehabbed.  And when you are calculating your ARV, you have to assume that price pressure will continue to move prices lower.

Furthermore, because of the sharp drop in sales volume, home inventories are spiking, which also moves prices down.

Homes for sale nationwide fell just short of 4 million units in July and, at the current sales paces, it would take 12.5 months for the existing inventory to be absorbed.

Home supply was just 8.9 months in June.

In Massachusetts, several counties we work in saw decreases of 30% and even more.

For home sellers , the Existing Home Sales report is a bit of bad news.  Fewer sales and larger inventories put negotiation leverage in the hands of the buyers which, in turn, creates downward pressure on home prices.  It may also increase time-on-market.

For home buyers, however, the data is decidedly welcome. After a stimulus-driven spring buying season that favored sellers, the summer and early-fall market seem to favor buyers. More choices and more leverage is a positive.

It helps that home affordability is up, too.

Although there’s reports that home values are rising, their modest gains are more than countered by the ongoing rally in mortgage rates. Freddie Mac says that 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates are at their lowest levels in history and, at today’s rates, every one-eighth drop in mortgage rates roughly offsets a 1.5% increase to home price.

Mortgage rates are down 0.75 percent since mid-April.