New stats indicate Arizona's housing market may have hit bottom - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

New stats indicate Arizona's housing market may have hit bottom

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Posted: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 12:31 pm | Updated: 3:36 pm, Thu Dec 1, 2011.

It may be just a statistical blip.

But there are indications that the state's housing market may finally have hit bottom.

On the surface, the new figures Tuesday from the Federal Housing Finance Agency are not good, showing the value of the average home in the state slid another 1.5 percent in the last quarter. That brings the year-over-year decrease to 12 percent.

That means a home valued at $200,000 just a year ago is now worth $24,000 less.

Only Nevada fared worse on an annual basis, with a 12.3 percent decline.

The same trend is playing out even longer term: The typical Arizona home is now valued at just half of what it was five years earlier.

But there are some bright spots in the numbers.

A few of the state's metro areas actually managed to move into the positive range in the last quarter. And even where the decline continues, the quarter-over-quarter figures are not as bad as they were three months earlier.

"There actually is some good news here," said Marshall Vest, economist at the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona.

He particularly cited the increase for the metro Phoenix area which includes both Maricopa and Pinal counties. While small - just 2.2 percent over the prior quarter - he said it bucks what has been a multi-year trend of declines.

Still, Vest is not ready to proclaim that the worst is definitely over.

"We're going to need another quarter or two of data before we can say this index has bottomed," he said. "But it's possible now that the second quarter of 2011 was the bottom - cross your fingers."

On an annual basis, though, the figures still look bleak, even on a local level.

In the agency's analysis of 306 metropolitan areas, the Phoenix area was the sixth worst in the country in terms of year-over-year declines. But Yuma County was just one spot below that, and Pima County just below Yuma.

Jay Butler, professor emeritus at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, said the figures are a reflection of what is moving in the market. At the moment, he said, that is being driven largely by people looking for cheap, investment-oriented properties as well as foreclosures.

"Investors are looking for a ‘flip' or inexpensive rentals," Butler said. "So they're looking for the deal."

What's causing the numbers to improve - or at least not decline as rapidly - is a simple question of what's left to buy.

"They've simply run out of the really cheap stuff and you're moving up to slightly cheap stuff," Butler said.

But Butler said that some investors may also realize that if they hope to get some appreciation in their investment they are going to have to make purchases in "potentially more dynamic areas" of communities, meaning markets that eventually will support traditional homeowners.

Tom Rex, an economics professor at the W.P. Carey School, said reducing the number of foreclosures will help the market turn around.

"But even then, you're still going to have some discrepancy between supply and demand," he explained.

"We're just not seeing much population growth now because we aren't seeing a whole lot of job growth," Rex continued. And there are plenty of Arizonans ready to pounce on the ones that develop, meaning there will be no new demand for people to move here to fill those jobs - and buy homes once they get here.

Vest said he found one other reason to be optimistic.

He said home values in southern California also appear to be recovering. Vest said he sees this as a "good leading indicator" of what will happen in Arizona.

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