homes

Prices Up, Foreclosures Down, Investors Losing Interest

Phoenix-area home prices are back on their way up again, after a short drop in January. The latest housing report from the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University shows soaring prices, dropping foreclosures and waning interest from investors looking at Maricopa and Pinal counties, as of February.

* The median single-family home price shot up more than 4 percent in just one month — January to February.
* The median single-family home price went up 36.5 percent from February 2012 to February 2013.
* Foreclosures have resumed their downward trend, after a brief post-holiday bump, and they are likely to fall below the “normal,” long-term level by the end of next year.

Phoenix-area home prices have risen sharply since hitting a low point in September 2011. The median single-family home price went up 4.3 percent from January to February. It went up 36.5 percent – $124,500 to $170,000 – from last February to this February. Realtors will note the average price per square foot rose 30.9 percent year-over-year. The median townhouse/condo price increased 39.4 percent – from $77,500 to $108,000.

“These substantial increases were predicted in our last report and are almost certain to continue in March,” says the report’s author, Mike Orr, director of the Center for Real Estate Theory and Practice at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. “Pricing typically strengthens during the peak buying season from February to June each year.”

Orr adds the market is still dealing with a chronic shortage of homes available for sale. The number of active single-family-home listings (without an existing contract) in the greater Phoenix area fell about 5 percent just from February 1 to March 1. Also, 79 percent of the available supply is priced above $150,000, creating a real problem in the lower range.

“The shortage continues to get more severe among the most affordable housing sectors,” says Orr. “Overall, ‘distressed,’ bargain supply is down 32 percent from last February, since we’re seeing fewer foreclosures and short sales. First-time home buyers face tough competition from investors and other bidders for the relatively small number of properties available in their target price range.”

Thanks to the tight inventory, the amount of single-family-home sales activity was down 10 percent this February from last February. Things don’t appear to be getting better.

“Higher prices would normally encourage more ordinary home sellers to enter the market, but it seems many potential sellers are either locked in by negative equity and/or staying on the sidelines, waiting for prices to rise further,” explains Orr. “At some point, we will reach a pricing level where resale supply will free up, but we are not there yet.”

While high-end, luxury-home resales are picking up some steam, many frustrated home buyers in the lower price range have been turning to new-home construction. As a result, new-home sales were up an incredible 67 percent from last February to this February. New-home sales have almost doubled their market share from 6 percent to 11 percent over the last 12 months. Still, Orr says new-home sales have a long way to go to recover their normal percentage of the market.

He adds, “New homes are not being built in sufficient quantity to match the population growth in the Phoenix area. The construction industry remembers overbuilding from 2003 to 2007, contributing to the disaster in 2008 that resulted in layoffs and bankruptcies for some developers. For now, it looks like they will probably build fewer than half the homes needed to keep pace with current population trends.”

Investor interest also continues to wane in the Phoenix area. The percentage of homes bought by investors from 2011 to mid-2012 was way up, but it declined in Maricopa County from 37 percent last February to 29.7 percent this February. Many investors are looking at other areas of the nation where prices haven’t recovered as much and more bargains are available. Orr labels it a “significant down trend” here.

Foreclosures and foreclosure starts (homeowners receiving notice their lenders may foreclose in 90 days) are both back on a downward trend, too, after a short post-holiday bump. Completed foreclosures on single-family homes and townhome/condos fell 25 percent from January to February alone. They were down 52 percent from last February. Foreclosure starts were down 61 percent from last February. Orr predicts foreclosure-notice rates may be down to “below long-term averages” by the end of 2014. Meantime, the lack of cheap foreclosed homes continues to help push prices up.

“The significant annual price increase over the last 12 months has now spread to all areas of greater Phoenix,” says Orr.

Orr’s full report, including statistics, charts and a breakdown by different areas of the Valley, can be viewed at http://wpcarey.asu.edu/finance/real-estate/upload/Full-Report-201303.pdf. A podcast with more analysis from Orr is also available from knowWPCarey, the business school’s online resource and newsletter, at http://knowwpcarey.com/index.cfm?cid=13.