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You didn’t really lose in housing free fall

posted Aug 11, 2009, 4:10 PM by Jayson Wingfield   [ updated Aug 11, 2009, 4:11 PM ]
ORLANDO – Aug. 11, 2009 – Stan Smith has some news for longtime homeowners having a pity party over falling house prices in Central Florida: New research shows that current home values are just about where they would have been if the real-estate bubble had never inflated and burst.

A long-term view of the market reveals that, even though prices rose and fell dramatically in recent years, they appear to have settled back into historic patterns, according to an analysis by Smith, a University of Central Florida finance professor.

“Most homeowners are within 6 percent of where they would have been had there not been a bubble. The people who have been here since before 2005, they should not have been hurt,” Smith said, though he added: “... A lot of people did buy in 2005 and 2006, and obviously they have been hurt significantly.”

For about a quarter-century, starting in the late 1970s, home prices in Metropolitan Orlando increased 4.7 percent a year on average, according to Smith’s analysis of data from a federal housing-price index. Then the bubble emerged, with prices rising 20 percent in 2005 and 32 percent the following year. Homeowners were elated about their fast-growing equity – at least until the bubble burst in mid-2007.

The sharp drop in prices since then – 22 percent from the 2007 high – may have left the impression that the bursting bubble set back even long-term homeowners for many years to come. Yet prices now are about where you would have expected them to be had the dramatic rise and fall never occurred.

Steve Shapiro, who is trying to sell his Lake Mary home, hadn’t really thought about it before but said it makes sense that the price he is asking for his home of 10 years tracks the area’s long-term pricing trends.

“I think I’m about where it should be with the price,” said the retiree, who has listed his house for $269,000 with Exit Realty Central agent Julie Elrod-Boyd – the same agent who helped him buy it in 1999 for $161,000. He estimated the house would have sold for more than $300,000 about 18 months ago, so the price has retreated 10 percent since then.

“It was nice to think it was worth so much a year and a half ago, but I felt like it was a little inflated,” he said. “All the homes were.”

Volusia County Property Appraiser Morgan Gilreath has obtained results similar to Smith’s in his county.

Gilreath recently plotted home prices from 1996 to the present and concluded they are not far below where they would have been without the bubble. The mid-point, or median, for home prices in Volusia in May was $124,900 – down about $20,000 from where they would have been if they had continued on their long-range trajectory rather than inflating and deflating in recent years, he said.

A year ago, the median in Volusia was about $50,000 above the historic trend line, he said; two years ago, it was flying about $100,000 above that line.

Gilreath said his analysis was not as thorough as Smith’s research at UCF, but both indicate the residential market is not likely to decline much further.

“The point that the charts are telling us is that we’re close to where we think the bottom is going to be,” he said. “The question is: When is it going to turn around? I have evidence that it is turning around here [in Volusia].”

Smith said prices in the region may continue to fall but are less likely to do so now that they are so near the long-term trend line – a “positive indicator” for coming months.

Les Simmonds, president of the Orlando Regional Realtor Association, said people generally measure their home’s current value against what it was worth a year ago – a short-term view of the market.” I feel strongly that, had we not had this bubble, that the median price of the properties would be a little better than they are now, because of the way they’ve been pushed down [in the post-bubble market] by ... [distressed] properties,” he said.

“I said to my wife last week that, when the market was really high, if we had sold then, we could have made four times what we paid for the house.” The problem, he added, is that most of the people who sold at the peak usually then bought near the top of the market. Shapiro said that, once he sells his Lake Mary house, he is ready to retire to a log cabin in north Georgia and forget about the whims of the real-estate market for a while.

The only thing that will rise and fall on his cabin, he said, will be the runners on his front-porch rocking chair.

Copyright © 2009 The Orlando Sentinel, Fla., Mary Shanklin. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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