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Real Estate Guide 2007
2007 overview
The real estate market was bed-ridden last year but 2007 brings new hope the market will get back on its feet.
2007 Overview
Spring is bargain time for home buyers
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"Even though existing home prices are basically flattish on a national level, I would issue a bit of caution with that number," he says. "Housing is inherently a local market, and national numbers are notorious for not offering an accurate snapshot of what is happening in a particular market."

So, while prices in Southern California and parts of Florida may be down significantly, other markets may still be enjoying healthy price gains.

On the whole, Levy says to expect prices, on average, to drift slightly lower as a function of clearing out excess inventory. And inventory is the key.

One way economists rate home sales is by calculating how many months it would take to sell all the homes listed for sale at the current buying rate. That number determines the housing inventory.

According to Lereah, the inventory of existing homes appears to have topped out at 7.4 months' worth of homes on the market.

"That's not bad for a contraction. Usually you would see double-digit inventories, but that didn't happen," he says. "But interestingly, that low number raises eyebrows, because everyone is looking for a bursting bubble."

And while he doesn't think prices have yet hit bottom nationwide, Lereah says he believes there are only a few more months where home prices can fall before turning up again.

"By year end, we will probably see a 1.4 (percent) appreciation nationwide," he says.

The latest housing inventory numbers show 6.8 months' worth of homes on the market in January, but Lereah warns that number may be adjusted upward as more exact figures become available.

"It will probably be closer to seven months when the revised numbers come in. I suspect we will see 6.6 to 6.5 months by year end," he says. "This takes us to the upper end of normal. As a rule of thumb, 5.5 to six months is a balanced market."

But again, Lereah stresses that housing appreciation is uneven nationwide.

"Some areas of the country saw a severe retraction. Places like southern California, Florida, Washington D.C., Las Vegas -- they all saw a sharp recession in real estate," he says. "They lost from 15 to 30 percent."

And while falling prices are bad news for homeowners, homebuyers in those depressed markets are now taking a fresh look at those bungalows that were priced out of their reach even a few months ago.

"All real estate is local," Lereah says, adding that that phrase will be the title of his new book expected to come out in April.

Michael Giusti is a freelance writer based in New Orleans.

-- Posted: March 8, 2007
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