Home-Price Scorecard Shows a Falling Market

The housing bust continues, at least according to the latest batch of home-price reports.

The monthly scorecard on November’s data showed that, on a year-over-year basis, home prices continued to slip across the country. Seasonal price drops are not uncommon late in the year, but the declines are more pronounced in today’s market, according to Raj Dosaj, vice president of LPS Applied Analytics’s home-price index. LPS said that the national average home price for transactions during November was $199,000, a level not seen since October 2002.

In addition, mortgage-technology company FNC reported that cuts on asking prices are becoming more common, and the size of the markdowns is rising.

Distressed sales, typically foreclosure and short sales, continue to decide the fate of the U.S. housing market. Foreclosure resales comprised one-in-five sales in November, according to real-estate website Zillow, hampering any chance of a sustained rebound. Zillow Chief Economist Stan Humphries has said that home values will fall modestly this year and the market is “still three to five years away from ‘normal’ housing market conditions.”

Removing distressed sales does brighten the data slightly, as CoreLogic has noted. Excluding distressed sales, recently released December data actually showed the first monthly gain since July 2011 (up .2%). The indexes differ in approaches, some of which were addressed in a prior post.

A few markets showed some notable trends in November’s home-price reports: Phoenix, Detroit and Atlanta.

Phoenix, one of the nation’s most overbuilt markets, was the only market in the S&P/Case-Shiller report that posted a monthly gain, up .6% in November (it also had a monthly gain in October). Similarly, LPS reported that Phoenix was its best-performing metro area. Phoenix has been emblematic of a trend in hard-hit markets: investors swooping in to snap up low-priced homes, boosting sales volume but not necessarily prices. An uptick in prices could suggest this pattern is changing. Stay tuned.

Detroit, hard hit by the car industry’s decline, may be far from a healthy real-estate market, but it seems to have moved past worst of its crisis. Average home prices in Detroit are down 55% from the July 2005 peak, according to LPS, but it had a 4.4% increase in November compared with a year earlier. It was down slightly on a monthly basis.

The outlook for Atlanta and other markets in Georgia is much less promising, as the New York Times and the Journal have noted. LPS reported that the five metros with the greatest declines in November were all in Georgia. The year-over-year decline for Atlanta, which also saw rampant overbuilding during the housing frenzy, as of November was 24.4%, a drop that seems straight from the gloomiest days of the crash.

Overall, the bottom line seems to be: Don’t be surprised by weak home prices going forward. “The market just rose too far and now it’s searching for a bottom,” Mr. Dosaj, of LPS, says.

Write to Matthew Strozier at matthew.strozier@wsj.com

Reports Continue to Show Home Price Declines

CoreLogic and Lender Processing Services
(LPS) have each released their most recent Home Price Indices.  CoreLogic’s HPI covers December; LPS’s covers
the month of November.  Here is a quick
review of each.

LPS found that the average home price
for transactions during November was $199.000, down 0.6 percent from the
October average.  This is the fifth consecutive
month that this index has declined. 
Preliminary information on December sales indicates that the HPI might
have lost another 0.8 percent during that month.

When the market peaked in June 2006 the
total value of the U.S. housing inventory covered by LPS was $10.8
trillion.  The value has declined 30.6
percent to $7.5 trillion since that time.

Price changes were consistent across the
country, increasing in 13 percent of the ZIP Codes in the database.  Higher priced homes had somewhat small price
declines than those in the middle and low price categories with the range from
high to low covering only 13 basis points.

CoreLogic issues two sets of indices,
one including sales of distressed properties, the other excluding those
sales.  The HPI for all sales decreased
1.4 percent in December and was down 4.7 percent on an annual basis, the fifth
year in a row that this HPI has declined.   
The Index covering market sales was 0.9 percent higher than in December
2010 which, Core Logic says, gives an indication of the impact distressed sales
are having on the market.  The HPI excluding distressed sales posted its first month -over-month
gain since last July, rising 0.2 percent. 

Of
the top 100 Core Based Statistical Areas as measured by population, 81 showed
year-over-year declines in November compared to 80 that were down on a monthly
basis in November compared to October.

…(read more)

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The Latest on Mortgage Rates: Still Low

By Mia Lamar

Average mortgage rates in the U.S. dropped to new record lows over the past week after data on the nation’s economic growth fell short of market forecasts, according to Freddie Mac’s weekly survey of mortgage rates.

A report from the Commerce Department last week showed U.S. gross domestic product—the value of all goods and services produced—grew at an annual rate of 2.8% in the October-to-December period. The data showed the U.S. economy expanded at the fastest pace since the second quarter of 2010, yet fell short of the expected 3% rate.

For the week ended Thursday, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.87%, down from 3.98% the previous week and 4.81% a year ago. Rates on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 3.14%, down from 3.24% last week and 4.08% a year earlier.

Five-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages, or ARM, averaged 2.8%, below the 2.85% rate averaged last week and 3.69% a year ago. One-year Treasury-indexed ARM rates averaged 2.76%, down from 2.74% and 3.26%, respectively.

To obtain the rates, 30-year and 15-year fixed-rate mortgages required an average 0.8 percentage point payment. Five-year and one-year adjustable rate mortgages required an average 0.7 percentage point and 0.6 percentage point payment, respectively. A point is 1% of the mortgage amount, charged as prepaid interest.

Despite the low mortgage rates, housing markets across the country continue to struggle. CoreLogic reported Thursday that U.S. home prices, including distressed sales, fell 4.7% in December compared with December 2010, the fifth consecutive year of price drops. Excluding distressed sales, CoreLogic’s home-price index fell .9% in December, which shows how much foreclosures and short sales are weighing down prices in some markets.

Write to Mia Lamar at mia.lamar@dowjones.com

Distressed Property Sales, Discounts Steady in Third Quarter

Sales of distressed homes, those in some
stage of foreclosure or bank owned (REO), accounted to 20 percent of all U.S.
home sales during the third quarter of 2011
compared to 22 percent of sales in
the second quarter according to information released Thursday by
RealtyTrac.  One year earlier such
distressed sales represented 30 percent of the housing market.

There were 221,536 such distressed
property sales to third parties, 11 percent fewer than revised second quarter
figures and 5 percent fewer than in the third quarter of 2010.  Pre-foreclosure sales (generally referred to
as short sales) totaled 92,824 sales or 9 percent of all sales, down 9 percent
from the second quarter and nearly identical to the number one year earlier
when pre-foreclosure sales represented 12 percent of the market.  Sales of REO totaled 128,712 properties, down
13 percent quarter over quarter and 8 percent from the previous year.  REO sales made up 12 percent of all sales in
the quarter compared to 13 percent in Q2 and 18 percent of sales a year
earlier.

Prices for distressed homes averaged
$165,322, up one percent from Q2 but down 3 percent from one year earlier.  The average discount from the market price
for distressed properties was 34 percent, the same as in the second quarter of
2011.  The discount one year earlier
averaged 37 percent.  There were
substantial differences, however, between the prices for pre-foreclosure
properties which averaged $191,119, a discount of 24 percent below the average
market price, and REO.  The latter had an
average sales price of $146,437 in the third quarter, a discount of nearly 42
percent, unchanged from Q2 and down from 45 percent a year earlier.  In the second quarter the discount for pre-foreclosed
properties was 23 percent and was it 24 percent in the third quarter of
2011. 

In six states distressed properties
sales accounted for a larger share of the market than the 20 percent national
average.  The states were Nevada (57
percent), California (44 percent), Arizona (43 percent), Georgia (34 percent),
Colorado (26 percent) and Michigan (23 percent).

The states with the largest
discounts for distressed property sales were Missouri (56.5 percent) and Massachusetts
(51 percent.)

…(read more)

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Appraisers say "Don’t Blame the Messenger" for Low Home Prices

The
Appraisal Institute has apparently had enough and has decided to fight back
against what it perceives as unwarranted blame for depressed home prices.  In a press release the Institute says, ” Don’t blame the real estate appraiser if it turns out that
house you’re trying to sell or buy isn’t worth what you thought it was.”

Speaking for the Institute, its
president Sara W. Stephens, MAI said that real estate agents, homebuilders and
others have placed blame for the market’s distressed condition on appraisers
who produce opinions of value that don’t match a home’s listing, contract or
sales price, delaying a recovery in the housing market and called that
accusation “nonsense.”

“The fact is that appraisers are
undertaking the same thorough research and thoughtful analysis that they always
have in order to continue producing reliable, credible opinions of value,”
Stephens said. “Don’t shoot the messenger.”

It is unclear why the Institute
decided to refute the claims about appraisers at this time.  We did a search and found a number of
articles with the blame appraisers theme, but none that were more recent than
last summer except for charges from the National Association of Realtors that low
appraisals are among the reasons for recent high levels of sales contract
cancellations.  NAR, however, has been complaining
about low appraisals since at least the spring of 2009. 

Noting that buyers and sellers often
have emotional value attached to a home or are unaware of the market, Stephens
pointed out that appraisals completed for mortgage transactions are used to
assist lenders, who are the clients, not buyers or sellers, in making lending
decisions – and are not intended to confirm a listing, contract or sales price.
There’s no reason to assume the contract price is the “correct” price simply
because it’s higher than the appraisal, she said.

As to the claim that appraisers are
using distressed sales as comps for market rate properties, Stevens said that
qualified appraisers know how to handle adjustments for distressed properties
and added that in some markets, distressed sales are so prevalent that it would
be improper not to use them as comparables.

The Institute also released two
handouts.  The first explains the process
of conducting an appraisal
in a declining market and includes a discussion of
how an appraiser discounts a distressed comp. The second handout attempts to
explain what an appraisers job really is, making the points that:

  • Appraisals aren’t intended to confirm a home’s sales
    price.
  • Appraisers don’t set the real estate market; they
    reflect what’s happening in the market.
  • Appraisers work not for buyers or sellers, but for
    lenders.
  • Appraisers are independent, third-party experts with
    no motive to be biased.
  • Appraisals sometimes are assigned to the least
    qualified, least competent appraisers, but especially in a distressed market,
    competent and qualified appraisers – such as designated members of the
    Appraisal Institute – should be hired for difficult assignments.
  • Appraisers know how to use distressed sales as
    comparables.

…(read more)

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