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Beholding the bubble


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

Top 30 markets to watch
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Raleigh, N.C. This city is right in the middle of the region that appeals to what real estate market consultant Schleimer calls the "halfbacks." Those are people from northern states who moved to Florida, didn't like it and then moved back, but only halfway. The halfback region includes Georgia, the Carolinas, parts of Mississippi and Tennessee. The seasons are more like what they were used to up North, without the harsh winters, and they're closer to friends and family. John Burns Housing Cycle Barometer has Raleigh dead last on its list of markets that are susceptible to a housing bubble, and the NAR shows a healthy appreciation of 7.4 percent between 2004 and 2005. The median house price of $185,200 is well below the national average of $213,000, giving it nice room to grow. Fortune predicts the region will do just that, by about 5 percent per year over the next two years.

Philadelphia. Major northeastern cities may be the least expected on a list like this, so we were somewhat surprised to see Philadelphia show up in a favorable position on several reports. The NAR quarterly report showed a 12 percent increase in appreciation between 2004 and 2005, high enough to encourage people to buy homes, but not at such a dizzying rate as to spark panic purchases. The housing-cost-to-income ratio, at 31 percent, is quite favorable compared to other large northeastern cities (53 percent in Washington, D.C., and Newark, N.J., and 72 percent in New York City) and while job growth is small, it's moving in the right direction.

Atlanta. Home to several major corporations and the country's busiest airport, Atlanta also is the second-largest housing market in the nation. Housing prices have enjoyed steady appreciation without the skyrocketing increases that have pushed other large markets toward a bubble. Commuters who have tired of long commutes have sparked resurgence in in-town development close to transit; the mixed-use development Atlantic Station has gained national attention as a true urban village with easy accessibility to jobs and cultural activities in downtown. Fortune predicts about 4 percent growth in values for the next two years.

Little Rock, Ark. Surprised to see Little Rock on this list? If so, join the club. It's not exactly on a lot of radar screens as a hot real estate market. But it popped up in a favorable way on just about every ranking related to housing appreciation, from the NAR's note of a very respectable 7.7 percent change from 2004 to 2005 to Fortune's prediction that that kind of increase should hold fairly steady for the next two years. This is Local Market Monitor positions it as one of the most undervalued markets in the country. At an average price of $155,900, housing there is running a good 17 percent below where it could be, Winzer says, making it a great value.

Cincinnati, Ohio, and Birmingham, Ala. These two were too close to call. The NAR's median price appreciation list gave a clear nod to Birmingham (4 percent increase from 2004 to 2005, to Cincinnati's 0.7 percent), but Cincinnati kicked its butt on the Housing Cycle Barometer that predicts a market's susceptibility to a housing bubble. (Cincinnati was 30 spots lower on the risk assessment.) Pricing in both markets is running about 12 percent under what the experts say it should be, giving them both plenty of room for nice, steady growth. The forecasters see that in the future for both markets.

-- Posted: March 1, 2006
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