Many metro areas stuck in a recession time warp

metro area

What housing recovery? Only about one-third of U.S. homes have topped their pre-recession price peaks, undermining other measures that have shown average national housing prices zooming past those high-water marks, according to a new study by real estate research firm Trulia.

“The U.S. housing market hasn’t recovered,” says Ralph McLaughlin, Trulia’s chief economist. “When you actually look at the value of any individual house, you’re much more likely to find houses that haven’t reached their” previous highs.

Make no mistake – the housing market has clawed its way out of the depths of the mid-2000s crash. The median U.S. home price was $196,500 in March, up from $151,900 at the market nadir in April 2012, Trulia figures show. And the vast majority of homes are worth more than what current owners paid for them.

Yet some homeowners may be waiting for prices to climb back to their prior tops before selling, which could be helping to constrain the number of homes available in the market, McLaughlin says. These unusually low inventories, in turn, are driving up prices, which ultimately could spur those homeowners to sell.

Trulia looked at the market value of each home and compared it to its pre-recession peak. By contrast, S&P Dow Jones Indices and the Federal Housing Finance Agency calculate average price changes that give more weight to expensive homes. S&P found its index exceeded its July 2006 peak last November, and the finance agency’s measure reached the milestone a year earlier.

While Trulia’s study concludes that just 34.2 percent of homes nationally have surpassed their previous highs, some metro areas have recovered from the housing crash, particularly in the West and South. Many of these places have benefited from strong job, income or population growth, such as technology hubs Denver, San Francisco and Portland, Ore., each of which has seen more than 90 percent of homes exceed their pre-recession records. A low vacancy rate on homes for rent or sale also tends to push up prices sharply.

In Denver, the housing recovery leader with 98.7 percent of homes at new peaks, average income has increased 20 percent since the recession ended in 2009, the second-biggest rise among the 100 largest metro areas. During this period, the city’s population has grown a healthy 13.7 percent and its median home price has soared 50 percent from its pre-meltdown record to $356,749 as of December.

“Most homeowners feel (the price run-up) is a security blanket,” says Steve Danyliw, a Denver broker with Danyliw & Associates. Many, he says, are taking out home-equity loans to pay for expenses such as their children’s college education.

Trulia has found that income growth has been the most significant factor since it determines whether buyers can afford to bid up for their dream home. Like Denver, areas such as San Francisco, Nashville, Austin and Seattle have had both the sharpest income gains and the most pervasive price recoveries.

Other areas – including Tulsa, Dallas, Nashville and Wichita – never had a big price run-up during the housing boom. As a result, prices in those spots didn’t fall sharply in the bust or face a steep climb in setting a new peak. Some of those areas also have enjoyed healthy job and income growth.

Yet in 28 of the 100 metro areas, fewer than 10 percent of homes have eclipsed their housing bubble values. Those include regions that rode the real estate boom, tumbled hard in the crash and are still well short of their peak despite solid recoveries, including Las Vegas, Tucson, Fort Lauderdale and Riverside, Calif.

Also lagging are communities in the Rust Belt and Northeast that have endured heavy manufacturing job losses or sluggish population growth, including Kenosha, Wis., Camden, N.J., and New Haven, Conn. In Cape Coral, Fla., the epicenter of the housing run-up and bust, just 5.9 percent of homes in the area have topped their pre-recession high.

Copyright © 2017, USATODAY.com, USA TODAY, Paul Davidson. Contributing: Patricia Borns, The (Fort Myers) News-Press

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