Architects with blueprints at construction site

May 6, 2015

Michael Gossie

Experts see a stronger year in Phoenix housing market

The spring weather isn’t the only thing that’s favorable in Arizona.

“The biggest overall trend we see in residential real estate is the market trending upward from relief to optimism,” says Matt Widdows, founder of HomeSmart International. “We are continuing to see an uptake in the market across the board. Housing prices are on the rise and so is the rental market.  We are seeing very early signs of multiple offers, which could possibly be an indication of the return of a seller’s market.”

According to the latest monthly report from the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, all signs point to the Phoenix area housing market having having better results in 2015, compared with 2014. Here are the highlights of that report on Maricopa and Pinal counties for January:

The median single-family-home sales price went up 5.6 percent from January 2014 to January 2015 — $197,000 to $208,000.

• The average price per square foot gained 5.1 percent from January 2014 to January 2015.

• Condos and townhomes continue to gain a larger share of the market. Their median price up 11.6 percent – from $121,000 to $135,000

February figures show demand about to boom, with the number of homes under contract dramatically rising.

“January is always a quiet month, but we believe this was a lull before the storm,” explains Mike Orr, director of the Center for Real Estate Theory and Practice at the W. P. Carey School. “We have already seen early signs of much stronger activity from buyers in February and March. Looking at the number of homes going under contract, there was significantly increased demand in the lower and middle price ranges.”

According to the Fannie Mae February 2015 Housing Survey, consumer optimism toward the housing market and the economy has reached a new all-time survey high. Forty-seven percent of respondents said they believe the economy is headed in the right direction. Likewise, the share of respondents who believe it would be easy to get a mortgage today rose to 54 percent, another record survey high.

“Population growth is on the rise and home values, after a few years of steady growth, are now providing homeowners with more flexible equity positions,” according to Doug Reynolds, vice president, loan officer and division manager at Washington Federal Bank. “These improvements, along with long-term rates staying low and financing remaining readily available, should continue to be positive drivers of new construction and increased values.”

Orr notes that listings for non-distressed homes under contract in the Phoenix area were up 26 percent from last year on a typical day in February. Listings from $150,000 to $600,000 were up more than 30 percent. He attributes this largely to lenders starting to relax their tight loan-underwriting guidelines and “boomerang buyers” who went through foreclosure or short sale being able to come back into the market.

“I’m noticing a lot more showings at all of my listings, which is a sign of activity in the market,” says Mike D’Elena, a Realtor with HomeSmart and co-owner of Northgate Group. “Most of the buyers out looking right now are new buyers just beginning their search. I’m also working with a lot of move-up buyers — these are people who have recognized that rates are trending upwards and want to take advantage of current low rates and get a bigger home.”

Experts says supply is an issue when it comes to all types of homes, including affordably priced rentals, which Orr says are at the lowest level he has seen in 14 years. But Tom Davis, vice president at Pioneer Title Agency, says in some areas, pending listings are up as much as 33 percent and this appears to be the trend throughout the Valley. Davis is quick to add that we are still in somewhat of a sellers’ market, with only about a six week inventory of homes on the MLS.

“Supply remains relatively low except at the high end of the market,” Orr says. “At the moment, we are seeing early signs that demand is likely to recover quite a bit faster than supply. It would only take a modest increase in first-time home buyer demand to overwhelm the current weak level of supply, making it tougher to find affordable homes for sale.”

Orr says home builders aren’t enjoying 2015 much yet. In January, newly built single-family homes hit their lowest monthly sales total in three years. However, most experts expect that trend to reverse, too.

“Traffic is running about the same as it has been, but sales are substantially up,” says Dennis Webb, vice president of operations for Fulton Homes. “We are seeing more buyers that have experienced a short sale or foreclosure and now want to move into a new home again. We are also seeing people who have a home to sell being able to move up because the value of their existing home has increased.”