Friday, July 20, 2007

National: When the housing rebound comes

(Money Magazine) -- If you're the sensitive type of homeowner, you may want to skip the rest of this paragraph, which recounts the unrelentingly grim news about home prices.

At least 42 percent of major housing markets are in decline, with some projected to fall by double digits over the next five years.

One alarming sign: The National Association of Realtors has reversed its usually sunny outlook and is now predicting a 1 percent drop nationwide in existing home prices in 2007, the first such prediction in the four decades since NAR started tracking prices.

Still, no bear market lasts forever, and indeed, predictor NAR, quickly recovering from its unusual flash of pessimism, is forecasting that prices will bottom out this quarter.

How will you know?

Because housing markets are intensely local, it won't do much good to check national figures. Instead, stay alert to leading indicators of recovery in your local market, such as:

Inventory is declining

A local broker should be able to tell you the months' worth of inventory - that is, the estimated amount of time, given the current pace of sales, that it would take to sell all the homes currently up for sale.

In markets with fewer than 6.5 months of inventory, homes tend to be appreciating faster than inflation, says Mark Dotzour, chief economist at the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M; above 6.5, prices are lagging inflation.

Above nine or 10 months, prices start to drop, creating an ice-cold market for sellers. Compare the current data with that of the previous few quarters to see whether the trend is downward or upward.

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