Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Dallas-area naysayers are mostly silent now when it comes to housing comeback

Where have all the doubters gone?
Until recently, whenever I’d write about signs of a turnaround in the troubled housing market, there were always a few magpies squawking about how things were really getting no better.
In previous economic downturns I’ve experienced, folks tended to be optimistic about better days ahead.
But in the recession just past, I heard from lots of people who were convinced — either because of the depth of the crash or political leanings — that good times were never going to return.
“The home picture continues to get bleaker,” argued one who wrote me last spring. “You can’t make it look anything but depressing — we’re going down the residential tubes and it looks like it’s going to get worse.”
Actually, just the opposite has happened.
Since early 2012, North Texas housing — along with home communities across the country — has seen steady improvement.
Sure, there have been some fits and starts, but the trend lines have steadily moved up.
And the local housing statistics released this week should put an end to any fears that the current home market rebound is just a dead cat bounce.
The positive numbers
Pre-owned home sales rose by 16 percent in North Texas last year, the best showing in four years. And median prices for houses sold by real estate agents increased by 8 percent from 2011.
Surveys show that we have gained back all but about 4 percent of the housing price loss during the recession. Nationwide, home prices are still about 30 percent in the hole.
The news for the new-home market is even better.
In last year’s fourth quarter, usually a slow period for builders, home sales jumped about 20 percent from year-earlier levels.
And starts of new houses in the Dallas-Fort Worth area were up almost 48 percent from the fourth quarter of 2011.
The number of new homes on the market in North Texas is at its lowest point in 14 years.
And you have to go back almost a decade to find a time when there were fewer pre-owned D-FW houses with “for sale” signs out front.
Not all rosy
Of course, the gains are not across the board. They never are.
I recently heard from a Frisco homeowner who says his house is still worth about $40,000 less than what he paid for it in 2007, just before the recession hit.
“We are upside down in our mortgage and really do not see our value going up anytime soon,” he wrote. “We also have a house that is abandoned right down the street, so I think things are not as optimistic as you see it.”
Certainly they aren’t for this guy. And about 11 percent of North Texans with a home loan still owe more than their house is worth.
But that’s going to change. The shortage of houses for sale in many North Texas neighborhoods is already leading to multiple offers and big price increases by the builders.
As we move into the busy spring home market, look for sales to rise even higher as consumers rush to take advantage of near-record-low interest rates.
There will be no way for homebuilders to crank out enough product to meet the growing demand.
And the housing market here is just going to get tighter.
Steve Brown