The Truth About Home Prices (What Statistical Data Doesn't Reflect)

Discussion in 'Data Sets and Feeds' started by ByLoSellHi, Dec 7, 2006.


    Published: December 6, 2006

    Down in Naples, Fla., a fast-growing city on the Gulf of Mexico, there was an auction of houses about a month ago.


    An auction isn’t the usual way to sell a home, but it can make sense for people who don’t want to leave their houses on the market for months at a time and also don’t want to take the first offer to come along. So on a Saturday morning inside the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club, a few dozen houses went on the block in front of about 500 bidders.

    Based on the official housing statistics, you might have guessed that the sellers would have made out just fine, despite all the talk of a real estate slump. According to one widely followed real estate index — tabulated by the government agency that regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — the average house in Naples sold for 20 percent more this summer than it would have a year earlier.

    But that wasn’t what happened at the auction. In fact, if you were at the beach club that Saturday, you could have been excused for thinking that the real estate market was crashing.

    One three-bedroom ranch house with a pool sold for $671,000. In 2005, the same house sold for $809,000. Another house, just steps from Naples Bay, sold for $880,000 at the auction., compared with $1.35 million a year earlier. On average, the houses that changed hands at the auction had fallen about 25 percent in value since 2005, according to Thomas Lawler, a real estate consultant who analyzed the auction’s results.

    Now, Naples is not a typical housing market. House prices nearly tripled in the first half of this decade, and speculators, who are more likely than residents to sell a house in a panic, flooded into the area in recent years. But with that said, Naples is not as unusual as you may think.

    The truth is that the official numbers on house prices — the last refuge of soothing information about the real estate market on the coasts — are deeply misleading. Depending on which set you look at, you’ll see that prices have either continued to rise, albeit modestly, or have fallen slightly over the last year. But the statistics have a number of flaws, perhaps the biggest being that they are based only on homes that have actually sold. The numbers overlook all those homes that have been languishing on the market for months, getting only offers that their owners have not been willing to accept.

    In reality, homes across much of Florida, California and the Northeast are worth a lot less than they were a year ago. The auction in Naples may have exaggerated the downturn in the market there, but not by much. Tom Doyle, a Naples real estate agent, estimated that a typical house there, sold in the normal way, would go for about 20 percent less than it did the previous fall.

    In the Boston area, prices have fallen about 10 to 15 percent since the middle of 2005, estimated Chobee Hoy, who owns a real estate brokerage firm in Brookline. Jerome J. Manning, who runs the Massachusetts-based auction company that conducted the Naples sale, told me he thought that values had dropped about 20 percent around Boston. (The government, meanwhile, says the average price rose 1 percent from last summer to this summer. But here’s all you need to know about how well the government tracks the Boston market: the index excludes any mortgage larger than $417,000.)

    In September of last year, Ms. Hoy sold a one-bedroom condominium in Brookline for $395,000. She recently sold another apartment of the same size in the same building for $300,000. Since March, her firm has been listing a house in the Fisher Hill neighborhood of Brookline that cost $995,000 when it last sold, in the summer of 2004. Ms. Hoy expects it to sell this time for less than $900,000.

    The market in northern Virginia is similar: prices are down 10 to 15 percent, according to an analysis by Mr. Lawler, a former Fannie Mae executive who’s based there. In Portland, Me., the typical house has lost about 10 percent of its value in the last year and a half, said Bill Trask, the former head of the local Realtors’ board.

    In New York City, where co-op boards generally bar the door to absentee speculators and creative mortgages, prices seem to have slid a bit in the last few months, but only to roughly their 2005 levels. In the New York suburbs, though, values have fallen perhaps 10 percent or more since last year. Prices also appear to be down in Sacramento and San Diego.

    For many homeowners, of course, the decline doesn’t much matter. They didn’t really benefit from the run-up, and they won’t suffer from the decline. And for any renters hoping to buy a home, the fall in prices is downright good news.

    Unfortunately, there are also a lot of families that took on huge mortgage debts based on the ephemeral peak values of their properties. In effect, they cashed in on the housing boom without cashing out. As Ed Smith Jr., the chief executive of Plaza Financial Group, a mortgage brokerage firm near San Diego, said, “So many people picked up their homes, turned them upside down and shook them like a piggy bank.”

    The withdrawals have been so big that the average household in Boston now has slightly less equity in its home than it did in 2000, according to an analysis by Moody’s that took inflation into account. And that analysis used the house prices reported by the National Association of Realtors, which appear to be more accurate than the government’s data right now but are still too rosy.

    Then there are the people who bought their homes in the last couple of years and made almost no down payment. Many of them may now be underwater, owing more on their mortgages than their houses are worth.

    Most worrisome, growing numbers of these families are falling behind on their mortgage payments, and they won’t be able to bail themselves out by refinancing or selling their homes. “We’re now going to combine a high amount of debt with falling home values,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of

    For the broader economy, this may turn out to be just a hiccup. Big piles of debt can often look scarier than they really are. Then again, the housing slump of 2006 may also be the start of something larger. Mr. Zandi considers it to be “the most significant threat to the global expansion.”

    Over the last few decades, the world’s financial system has endured a crisis roughly once every three or four years. There was the stock market crash of 1987, the Asian and Mexican meltdowns in the 1990s, the dot-com implosion of 2000 and, most recently, the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. We may now be living on both borrowed money and borrowed time.
  2. Houses in Canada have skyrocketed by almost I would say roughly 100% since 1999. I am wondering when the ship will set sail on for the Canadian housing market.
  3. I will tell you the truth about Florida. The truth is that its loaded with many elderly persons who will most likely pass away within 10 years. Some are very likely to pass away in the next 3 years.

    So when they do pass away, what happens to the houses? I see the Florida real estate market as most vulnerable. There isnt that much industry or jobs down there.

    Those houses in the pictures you posted look like they were built in the 70s-80s and would probably need lots of fixing. I dont see any of them as million dollar houses.

    I apologize if I sound gory in this post, but Im looking at things realistically.
  4. Mvic


    This was already posted in one of the established housing threads.
  5. I didn't know.

    If the mods can merge it, that'd be great.
  6. What will happen to the houses? More elderly people will move down there and buy them. There won't be a shortage of elderly people moving to Florida, especially if the housing market falls somewhat- that would make it more attractive to them. Remember, the population is only increasing in size and life expectancy.

    This isn't to say that the RE market won't tank in Florida, just that it won't be because of elderly people passing away.
  7. Right.

    The coming wave of baby boomer retirements should lead to a second wave of price appreciation in Florida. We could be looking at the last good opportunity to buy property there for a long time. That said, I don't think there is any need to rush. As with any falling market, you want to wait until that knife has stuck in the ground and stopped quivering.
  8. Lots of "Boomers" just reaching retirement and many will want to retire somewhere other than where they now are. Consider those in the midwest, tired of cold winters and little sunshine.
    Same for some of them in the northeast. Remember, that in Fl. most if not all of the good land is already built on, even if it was in the 70s and 80s. That land will do well IMO.

    Dumb speculators as always will get punished as is happening now to some flippers who got in at the top and are now underwater.

  9. imo they ought to make speculation on housing illegal.

    serves no purpose other than enriching a very few, and destabilizing the economy.
  10. dchang0


    Um, that same argument could be used by ignorant non-stock traders against the very few mega-successful stock traders to shut down the entire market.

    Removing/limiting free markets is a sure way to put graft and privilege at the forefront as the premier way to gain and keep wealth, removing skill and merit as a factor.
    #10     Dec 8, 2006