Real Estate Outlook: Bumpy Recovery

What do you make of a market where pending home sales drop, as they did in the latest monthly survey, but many other real estate and mortgage indicators are trending positive at the same time?

For starters, you can recognize it for what it is — a fitful, bumpy recovery we’ve got underway.

On pending homes sales, no question there’s softness in the wake of the tax credit phase-out.

But a national drop of just 2.6 percent in the National Association of Realtors’ index wasn’t all that dramatic.

In fact, buried away in the pending sales statistics were some counter-trends that got virtually no press attention whatsoever.

For example, several major markets are seeing significant increases in pending sales.

Check out South Florida, which was ground zero for the housing bust. Pending sales of houses and condos in the greater Miami-South Dade area rose by nearly 41 percent year-over-year in the latest survey.

Yes, distressed transactions, short sales and foreclosures account for a lot of that activity. But it’s absolutely essential to sop up all that unsold, troubled inventory in South Florida — and that’s what’s clearly beginning to happen.

Pending sales also were up in the metropolitan Washington DC area along with much of Texas. The entire southern region of the U.S. racked up a 3.7 percent increase in pending sales — a fact that somehow got lost in all the negative coverage.

Another sign that even in the midst of tough economic times, people are looking to buy homes: The Mortgage Bankers Association reports that applications for new loans to purchase houses rose for the third straight week, this time by 2 percent. FHA home purchase applications were up by 3 percent.

These are modest gains, but they’re also signals that housing just might be turning the corner after the lows following the expiration of the credits earlier in the spring.

By the way, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke made some interesting comments last week that shed light on what’s developing in the marketplace overall:

Number one, he said, private employment is slowly, but surely, improving. During the first six months of 2010, private payrolls expanded by an average 100,000 jobs per month.

Bernanke also said consumer spending, which has been cautious since the recession ended, is looking up. As he put it, “growth in real consumer spending seems likely to pick up during (upcoming) quarters, supported by gains in (household) income and improving credit conditions.”

And that could prove very important to the housing outlook for the months ahead.

Published: by Kenneth R. Harney, Realty Times, August 9, 2010

Joan Byrnes, SRES
Realty One Group