New figures show the worst of Arizona's housing slump could be over - East Valley Tribune: Business

New figures show the worst of Arizona's housing slump could be over

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Posted: Thursday, February 23, 2012 1:34 pm | Updated: 9:54 am, Wed Feb 29, 2012.

It’s only one report.

But it could be that the worst of Arizona’s housing market is now behind us.

New figures Thursday from the Federal Housing Finance Agency show the price of homes in Arizona actually rose more than 4 percent in the last quarter of 2011. By contrast, the national figure was still one-tenth of a point in the red.

Even looking at a broader index that measures home values — one that also takes into account appraisals done to refinance homes as well as sales prices — Arizona is still in positive territory, versus a 0.8 percent drop nationwide.

Still, the state has a long way to go to dig out of the hole.

One quarter of positive numbers does not erase even the losses of the past year. Overall home prices at the end of last year in Arizona were still 2.4 percent below where they were the same time a year earlier.

And the typical Arizona home is still worth only about half of what it was five years earlier.

The report also shows some areas of the state remain weaker than others.

Coconino County home values continue to slide. In fact, its 9.7 percent year-over-year drop is the seventh worst of the 306 metropolitan areas in the FHFA study.

Yuma County is not far behind, with its 8.7 percent annual decline only five spots above that.

And Pima County, which eeked out a 1.1 percent quarterly price increase, is five positions above that with an 8.4 percent drop between prices this year and last.

“The question is, is this just a blip or a long-term trend,” commented Michael Orr, a real estate analyst with the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. Orr said he’s willing to predict that it is the latter, saying there were some indications last fall that the housing market might finally be ready for a turnaround.

“This is really good news,” said economist Marshall Vest of the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona. He said the numbers, coupled with prior reports that showed price declines flattening out, suggest the bottom may have been reached.

But Vest was not quite ready to break out the champagne.

“I think we still need to see one more quarter or two to see if this thing holds,” he said.

The “why” of it all is more complex.

Orr sees it as a simple matter of supply and demand, particularly at the lower end of the market.

“It would be very rare to have any home below $300,000 not receive multiple bids,” he said. “In that situation, competition sets in and prices tend to rise.”

And the lower the price goes, Orr said, the fewer homes that are available for sale. That includes foreclosures.

“We’ve got foreclosures still happening above normal, but about half of what it used to be,” he said.

Vest said just news like this will help accelerate the rise in prices.

“The idea that we’ve had prices moving up will definitely change the psychology in the market,” he said. “Some people who have been sitting on the fence may decide that now is the time to jump in which would, of course, boost demand and boost prices even further.”

Orr said prices for townhomes and condos have not been affected as much as for single-family homes. But he said that, here too, the supply of lower-priced units is drying up which should force sales prices up.

Even with the higher prices on existing homes, Orr said that’s not going to suddenly result in a big increase in new construction.

He said there still is a gap between what existing homes are bringing and what builders need to charge to cover their costs and make a profit on new ones.

“But they are starting to ramp up a bit,” Orr said.

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