Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Orange County Housing Report: HAPPY NEW YEAR – A 2010 FORECAST

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! Now, what does that mean for Orange County real estate? First, let me clarify that forecasting draws from historical data and circumstances to predict the future. Yet, we are currently in uncharted waters, making forecasting the housing market more of an art than an exact science. There have already been many forecasts released that are all over the map. It reminds me of picking NFL football games during the first week of the year when there are a lot of surprises. With that in mind, let’s take a look back at what happened in 2009 in terms of inventory, demand, expected market time and distressed properties.

The Active Inventory: We started the year with 11,326 homes on the market. The discretionary homeowner returned, knowing that the market was full of challenges and competition. Values had already dropped substantially, especially in the lower ranges. The active inventory reached its peak of 11,606 homes by the end of March, 280 additional homes compared to the beginning of the year, a 2.5% increase. From there, the inventory continued to drop steadily throughout the year. Currently, the active inventory has continued its downward trend, shedding another 207 homes and bringing the inventory to 7,381 homes, a 36% drop from the peak. The inventory has dropped to levels not seen since December of 2005. In comparison, the 2008 active inventory grew from 14,944 homes in January and peaked in March at 15,617 homes, a 4.5% increase. From there, the 2008 inventory dropped 26% through the end of the year to 11,842. In 2006 and 2007, the active inventory blossomed throughout the year and peaked in August. In both 2008 and 2009, the inventory had dropped to a much healthier level with the help from the discretionary homeowner. Had discretionary homeowners not been present, we could have been looking at inventory levels hovering around the 20,000 mark. The drop in the active listing inventory has also been aided by the number of short sales that have been placed into “Backup” position. Short sales, homeowners that owe more than their home is worth, are subject to lender approval of accepting less than the full loan amount. Many short sales continued to market their homes as active listings even though they had an acceptable agreement between a buyer and the seller. They remained on the market until they had “lender approval.” This resulted in an artificially high active inventory. This has since changed and the active inventory today is a much more accurate depiction of the real active inventory.

Demand: Just like in 2008, demand, the number of new pending sales within the prior month, continuously grew unabated. It was plodding along, ignoring cyclical ups and downs from week to week. Demand grew from 2,008 homes in the beginning of January to its peak of 3,652 homes in June, an 82% increase. After June, just like in 2008, demand followed the normal cyclical, seasonal pattern. Demand was boosted by the major drop in home values over the prior couple of years, increased affordability, historically low interest rates, the first time home buyer tax credit and the sheer number of distressed properties on the market. In 2008, a peak in demand of 3,060 homes was reached in June, and then slowed for the Autumn and Holiday markets. Currently, in keeping up with the normal Holiday market cycle, demand dropped by 523 homes in the past month to 2,515 homes. That is still much healthier than last year at this time when demand dropped to 1,997 homes, 21% slower than today. In 2007, demand was at 1,031 homes, 59% slower. Current demand is also at the strongest level for the finish to a year since I started tracking the Orange County housing market five years ago.

Expected Market Time: Orange County started off the year with an expected market time of 5.62 months. But, as demand continued to pick up steam and the inventory dropped, the expected market time methodically declined and reached a bottom in September of 2.33 months. Currently the expected market time is at 2.93 months. In 2008 the expected market time started the year at 14.97 months and dropped to 5.93 months at the end of the year. In 2007 the expected market time started the year at 7.78 months and increased to 15.05 at the end of the year. The current expected market time is also at a much healthier level going into 2010. At the current expected market time, it is technically a seller’s market. Distressed properties are keeping a lid on any real appreciation, but all of the other trimmings that go along with a seller’s market are very much a part of today’s housing landscape: multiple offers, sale prices above list prices, tremendous competition, and buyer frustration.

Distressed Properties: The big story of 2008 was how much the distressed inventory grew and became such a large part of the housing market. This year, the big story was how the number of distressed properties had dropped. With moratoriums on foreclosures at the beginning of the year and the government insisting upon loan modifications, the number of foreclosures dropped throughout the year. In the beginning of 2009 there were 5,118 distressed homes on the market, both short sales and foreclosures, representing 45% of the active inventory. The distressed inventory dropped 46% to a low of 2,346 in October, representing 31% of the active inventory. With a decrease in demand due to the holidays, the current active distressed inventory increased by 41 homes over the past month and is now at 2,537 homes, representing 34% of the total inventory. In 2008, the distressed inventory started the year at 3,858 homes, peaked in August at 5,950 homes and then dropped to 5,379 homes at the end of the year. Short sales make up 85% of the distressed inventory versus 15% for foreclosures. At the beginning of the year, distressed properties made up 69% of demand versus 55% today. There is tremendous demand for distressed properties. Even though it is the Holiday market, the expected market time for all foreclosures is at 1.07 months, a DEEP SELLER’s market. The sales to list price ratio for foreclosures in the month of November was 104%. That means that the average foreclosure sold for 4% ABOVE the list price. There are only 378 foreclosures actively listed today. One year ago there were 1,294. There is similar demand for short sales with an expected market time of 2.12 months. The sales to list price ratio for short sales in November was at 99%. Short sales have become a major part of the housing market and will be throughout 2010. There are 2,159 short sales on the active market, 4,037 short sales are pending and 856 have been placed on hold. All of these statuses combined total 7,093. Short sales represent 48% of all listings, pendings and properties on hold. As a buyer, it is very difficult to avoid short sales and their lengthy process. The bottom line, there is tremendous demand for distressed properties and buyers should not have the expectation of being able to offer much less than the purchase price.

2009, a look back: Perhaps the biggest surprise of the year has been the large drop in distressed sales. Throughout the year, everybody has heard of various foreclosure moratoriums and the pending wave of foreclosures to come, also known as the “shadow inventory.” The shadow inventory includes all homes that have been foreclosed on but the lender purposefully held off of the market, all homes scheduled for a trustees deed upon sale (the final foreclosure action) and, most important, all homes that are 90 days or more delinquent. There is a giant shadow inventory, but many economists and analysts have made the error of presuming that lenders are purposely holding already foreclosed homes off of the market. Instead, most of the shadow inventory is already on the market as short sales. There are over 7,000 in Orange County alone that are on the active market, pending or on hold. In Los Angeles, there are over 13,000, in Riverside there are over 8,000, in San Bernardino there are over 5,700, an in San Diego there are over 8,500. Minus Ventura County, there are over 42,000 short sales in Southern California alone. The short sales have piled up across the United States. There has been tremendous pressure from the federal government for lenders to modify loans. Thus far the program has not been that successful. Now they are turning their sites on short sales. The government wants lenders to modify first, short sale second, and, as a last resort, foreclose. On November 30th of this year, the Obama administration, through the U.S. Treasury, released the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternative Program (HAFA), providing financial incentives to servicers and borrowers who utilize a short sale or a deed-in-lieu to avoid a foreclosure on an eligible loan. In response, lenders are already gearing up to handle the volume of short sales.

The first time home buyer tax credit also had a positive impact on the housing market along with the increased conventional loan limit to $729,750. The tax credit was supposed to end November 30th, but has since been extended through June of next year. So, we can expect a bump in activity due to the credit for the first half of 2010. The government was late to provide an extension to the increased conventional loan limit from 2008. So the first few months, the conventional loan limit dropped to $625,500 and then it was increased again to $729,750. The increase was set to expire at the end of 2009, but this time the government actually planned ahead and extended the increase through the end of 2010. This is very important to the Orange County housing market since loans above the conventional loan limit, jumbo loans, are much more difficult to obtain.

What can we expect in 2010? The federal government has been working overtime to help instigate an increase in demand and an eventual recovery within the real estate sector. The first time home buyer tax credit has been expanded to include move-up buyers who need to sell their homes first and extended through June of next year (homes need to be pending by April 30th and close by June 30th). As discussed prior, the conventional loan limit has been extended through all of 2010. But, the biggest wild card for 2010 is what will eventually happen to interest rates as the Federal Reserve halts the purchase of mortgage-backed securities. Here is my forecast:

  • The lower end, below $1 million, and especially below $750,000, will continue to experience strong demand and values will remain flat or appreciate slightly. Homes priced below $1 million accounts for 76% of the active listing inventory and 94% of demand. Buyers and sellers can continue to expect multiple offers and sales prices at or above the list price. Bottom feeders need not waste their time.
  • The upper end, above $1 million, and especially above $2 million, will continue to experience muted demand along with a drop in value. The upper end is catching up with the large drops in value within the lower end. The drop in value will be led by an increase in distressed sales in the upper ranges. Jumbo loans may be tougher to obtain in the upper ranges, but as values drop, demand will increase. The appetite for upper end distressed sales has grown and, with proper pricing, will attract higher demand and multiple offers.
  • The number of units sold will increase year over year slightly. The difference will be much stronger in the first quarter of 2010 and the gap will tighten for the remainder of the year. For the most part, the demand curve will closely mirror 2009.
  • The discretionary seller will return to the marketplace, keeping inventory levels at a healthy level. We can expect the active inventory to grow to no more than 9,000 homes.
  • Short sales will be king in 2010. With the federal government turning their attention to short sales, the process is going to get a whole lot better. The government had been strong arming lenders to modify loans, but success has been very limited. There will be a lot more short sale approvals, which translates to successful closed short sales. The infamous “shadow inventory” will actually translate to more short sales. Short sales are already a major component of today’s real estate market. The only thing missing right now is a higher success rate and that is about to change. Expect the number of closed short sales to continue to exceed the number of closed foreclosures on a monthly basis.
  • The number of foreclosures to hit the market will increase slightly year over year, but will NOT be a wave fueled by the “shadow inventory.”
  • We can expect the distressed inventory to rise slowly with more short sales and foreclosures to hit the market; but, this will be offset by incredible demand for distressed properties. With demand so high, distressed properties will be placed at the last comparable sale, not below.
  • As the Federal Reserve purchase of mortgage-backed securities comes to an end after the first quarter of 2010, interest rates will rise to about 6%. That may seem like a giant jump, but 6% is still low historically.
  • It is going to by a long wait for homeowners waiting for the market to rebound. With unemployment high and more distressed homes to hit the market, the most likely scenario is going to be a flat market for the next couple of years, with no real appreciation or depreciation.

There have been a lot of lessons learned from the housing speculative bubble. The most important lesson has to be that people need to look for a place to call “home” for the long term, making sure that their family can afford the monthly payment. If a homeowner pays their 30-year fixed rate mortgage for 30-years, they own their home free and clear. Historically, in the long run, a home is a great investment. Your home is not an asset that is meant to be flipped every two years because the government has made it convenient to write off the gains. A home is place to call your own and a great place to raise a family or retire. And, in my humble opinion, you cannot beat Orange County as a place to call home.

1 comment:

Jeff Green said...

Thanks for the good info Steven. Right now, the first time home buyer tax credit is the driving force of the market.