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Beholding the bubble


Does a real estate "bubble" exist in your area? Will it affect your investment in your home?

Despite bubble talk, home appreciation keeps rising

The days of rapid growth in home prices are cooling off, but you wouldn't know that by looking at the appreciation of home values across the nation in the fourth quarter of 2005.

Values rose at an annual rate of 13.6 percent, with half of the nation's major metropolitan regions reporting double-digit growth rates for the median prices of existing single-family homes, according to the figures released by the National Association of Realtors.

The modest dip in appreciation is an early sign of a market adjustment, says David Lereah, the National Association of Realtors' chief economist.

Last quarter, homes appreciated in value at a tremendous pace mostly because of the tight supply of existing homes in the market place.

"These historically high home-price gains are the simple result of more buyers than sellers in the market," says Lereah. "The good news is that the supply of homes on the market has been trending up and we are entering a period of a more normal balance in supply and demand."

The softening of the housing market doesn't mean home values will plummet. NAR president, Thomas M. Stevens, predicts housing values will keep at a high plateau because of consumers' demands for housing.

"The children of the baby boom generation, often called the 'echo-boomers,' are the second largest generation in U.S. history and are just entering the period in which people typically buy their first home. Along with a strong immigrant impact, and the boomers themselves who remain in peak earnings years, this means the need for housing will stay strong over the next decade and long-term prices will continue to rise," Stevens says.

The national median existing single-family home price hit $213,000 in the fourth quarter, compared to $187,500 in the same quarter 2004. A record 72 of the 145 metropolitan areas surveyed by NAR showed a double-digit percentage rise in home prices. Only six areas posted modest declines. The previous record for areas showing double-digit price growth was 69 regions in the third quarter of 2004. The median is the point at which half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less.

Leading the nation in price increases once again is the arid desert region of Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz. The median price in the fourth quarter hit $268,400, an increase of 48.9 percent from the same quarter last year.

The more-humid Florida boasts the second- and third-hottest growth markets during the fourth quarter. The median price for a home in the Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla., market came in at $293,100, up 48 percent from the fourth quarter of 2004. The Orlando, Fla., metro hit $261,800, a 42 percent jump over the same quarter 2004.

Regionally, the West saw the highest bump up in home values. Existing home prices rose 18.2 percent to a median price of $328,500 in the West. Homes in the Midwest rose by 11 percent to $167,600; home values in the South climbed 9.2 percent to $185,300, and the Northeast's home values grew 8 percent to a median home price of $240,300.

The most expensive homes in the nation are in California. Residents of the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif., metro shop a housing market where the median price for an existing home is $747,000, and in San Francisco the price is $718,700.

Shopping for a bargain? Resale prices were lowest in Danville, Ill., where the median price is $63,800.

New addition: Condos
Beginning with this report, NAR is reporting the pricing changes on condos and cooperatives in 51 markets. Co-ops are included in the condo numbers. The national median condo price was $228,200, during the fourth quarter, which is 12.3 percent higher than a year ago. The national condo price is higher than the median single-family home because of the high concentration of condos in the most expensive metropolitan regions, says Lereah.

The best growth rate for condos was in the same region as the No. 1 growth for single-family homes -- the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale area -- where condo prices jumped 50.9 percent from 2004 to $175,600. The most expensive condos are in the San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif., metro with the median prices at $616,800.

How did homes fare in your area?

-- Posted: March 1, 2006
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