Wednesday, February 8, 2012

US Housing Market Finding Bottom?

Economy watchdog Tim Iacono touts Bill McBride’s blog, Calculated Risk, as a reliable resource for housing market predictions, and McBride’s latest post – “The Housing Bottom Is Here” – has Iacono’s attention. Iacono notes that McBride’s blog was one of the few that identified and provided warning for the 2004-05 housing bubble that lifted Southern California home prices only to watch them plummet, giving supposed credence to more current predictions. Much like McBride in his own blog, however, Iacono stops short of suggesting that he, McBride or anyone else can predict what will happen in today’s U.S. housing market. For more on this continue reading the following article from Tim Iacono.

While the debate about whether the U.S. housing market has hit bottom is certainly heating up, hopefully it won’t rise to the current temperature of the brouhaha over whether last Friday’s labor market report was good, bad, indifferent, or just an outright fabrication by the Obama administration in an increasingly contentious election year.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t tell the politics from the statistics when trying to make sense of last Friday’s monthly jobs report and, at this point, I don’t care anymore.

As for the housing market, none other than Bill McBride at the wildly popular Calculated Risk blog weighed in on the subject yesterday declaring The Housing Bottom Is Here, a view that you find out at the end of the article isn’t quite as strongly held as you might think from just reading the title.

Bill notes there are two housing markets – new home construction and existing home sales – and, while the former has clearly made a bottom, the latter is likely to do so next month, though he qualifies that prediction with words like “I think that house prices are close to a bottom” and there being “a reasonable chance that the bottom is here”.

Now, caveats notwithstanding, this is still a big deal since Calculated Risk isn’t just an ordinary offering out there in the blogosphere. This particular blog happened to be calling the US housing market a bubble back when few had an inkling of the trouble to come and, for that reason alone, his is an opinion worth listening to.

It was back in late-2004 and early-2005 that a few people in Southern California – one of the many “ground zeros” for the late, great housing bubble – started writing about the remarkable rise in home prices and how it could not be sustained.

Yours truly was one of them and I’ve learned much from Bill over the years.

I recall reading commentary by Bill and Mish over at Silicon Valley insider as they set about creating what are two of the most influential financial blogs in the country today, so, it’s not as if any of us are “Johnny-come-latelies”.

Another of the original housing bubble bloggers was Rich Toscano at and, as long as we’ve begun to gather data points, it’s worth noting that Rich is in the process of buying a home in the San Diego area, something he characterized as Jumping the Shark.

Recall that San Diego was ahead of the crowd, housing-bubble-wise, over last decade and, today, it’s certainly no Las Vegas, where home prices just keep falling month after month, year after year.

According to the latest data from Case-Shiller, San Diego home prices are four or five percent above their recession lows in early 2009, and, when factoring in the Federal Reserve’s freakishly low interest rates and the reality that, to most people, it’s not the house price, but the monthly payment that is most important, a home purchased there at this time would seem to make good sense.

Of course, my wife and I purchased a home here in Montana just over a year ago, so, actions normally speaking louder than words, you have a pretty good idea about how we feel about property prices in this part of the country.

And if you go a few hundred miles or so east of here to where the shale energy boom is underway in North Dakota, you’d think it’s 2005 again.

In the Bay area, there’s Patrick Killelea of fame who has yet to fall in line with some of the other capitulating 2005-era housing bubble bloggers and, given his proximity to what appears to be another inflating Silicon Valley tech bubble, I wouldn’t expect him to do so anytime soon.

It’s funny to think back to about 12 years ago when I was working in Southern California and was visited by co-workers from Northern California who told tall tales of run-of-the-mill 1,000 square foot homes selling for a half million dollars.

Little did we know that large portions of the rest of the country would experience that same phenomenon just a few years later. As it turns out, Northern California seems to get a new bubble every five years or so, something that makes it particularly hard to call a housing market bottom there due to the spill-over effect of these non-housing bubble bubbles.

I don’t know – conditions are different depending on where you are and, in most cases, national home price trends have little meaning for an individual contemplating a home purchase.

Surely, with a couple years of home price history now in the books, housing bubble spotter Dean Baker was right to buy a house near Washington D.C. a few years back since the market there seemed to make a bottom just as the freshly printed and borrowed money started gushing from the nation’s capital.

One thing is certain, I’d much rather be writing about whether the housing market has hit bottom than whether the labor market has turned a corner as the November elections draw nearer because that discussion has become way too toxic for my tastes.

This blog post was republished with permission from Tim Iacono.

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