Real Estate Update

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The percentage of homes that have mortgages which are “underwater” has gone down dramatically in the Phoenix Metropolitan area. Mike Orr, Director of the Real Estate Center at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, will give us a real estate update. Joining him will be Kristena Hansen, who covers real estate for the Phoenix Business Journal.

Ted Simons: Good evening. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The percentage of underwater homes in Arizona is down big time over the past year. A home is considered under water when its mortgage exceeds the current value. Here to talk about this and other trends in the housing market is Mike Orr, director of ASU's real estate center and also here is Kristena Hansen who covers real estate for the Phoenix Business Journal. Good to have you both here. Thanks for joining us.

Mike Orr: Thanks for having us.

Ted Simons: We'll go under water first and then we'll get out of the pool and talk about the whole market in general here. These under water homes, that is a pretty big drop off, isn't it?

Mike Orr: It is. It's due to the prices. The values going up quite dramatically over the last two years, about 25 percent in the first year, between September 2011 and 2012. And then just over 20 percent in the last 12 months.

Ted Simons: Are those prices going to stay like that or what's happening there?

Mike Orr: I think we are not going to see quite that fast an appreciation but there's still upward pressure on prices right now.

Ted Simons: The impact of foreclosures, the impact of short sales, what are you seeing as far as getting these people out from under water?

Kristena Hansen: That's a challenging question because when we talk about under water homes, that's kind of a tricky number to really put your hands around because, you know, the under water rate is largely based on what the value of your home is currently versus how much you paid for it. The current value is subjective. It fluctuates all the time. So a lot of these companies that come out with these numbers that are talking about these under water rates, they basically have their own personal formulas that they use to kind of plug in a bunch of information on your home then they put it into a software data base and purge out a number. The accuracy can vary widely depending on the time of year and what market you're in and what neighborhood you're in and all sorts of things so you just have to keep that in mind.

Ted Simons: But these are encouraging numbers. There's some skepticism but mostly encouragement.

Ted Simons: They are a good barometer. You have to take them with a grain of salt too and understand really how they're gathering the information. It's one of those, under water rate is one of those things that it's such a subjective figure you really have no idea truly what the under water rate is.

Ted Simons: So with that in mind is this particular bit of information, how do we -- moving goal posts here? How do we take this information?

Mike Orr: I think on any particular house you look at first of all it's questionable if anybody knows what its value is until it actually sells. But we know the assessor establishes value in order to judge tax on it. Part of the good news I think from the county's point of view and the state's point of view is we can expect those valuations to go up quite a lot over the next two years because price have moved so much. I just did a very rough calculation in the County of Maricopa. The value of older homes has gone up by a total of about $80 billion in the last two years.

Ted Simons: So with that in mind, and you kind of referred to this earlier, it sounds like folks are sticking it out a little bit, and that helps with this under water situation.

Mike Orr: if you're under water and it's getting worse, they are more likely to say let's get out of from under this obligation, do a short sale or let it go into foreclosures but if the prices are going up, you fill a little less under water every week that goes passed. Then you're more likely to say let's stick it out. Maybe it will take a few years but eventually we'll have some equity in this house. Prices have moved a lot. Thy still have to move a long way to get to where they were in 2006. Arizona as a whole, 48 percent, they have to go up by 48 percent, to get back to 2006. In Phoenix, 60 percent. So there's a big jump.

Ted Simons: That's not going to happen any time soon.

Mike Orr: We're not going to get to zero under water for quite a while.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, the state of the housing market here in the valley, let's stick with the Phoenix area for numbers purposes here, getting better, stronger, fewer foreclosures? What are you seeing out there?

Kristena Hansen: Foreclosures are definitely down. Last numbers I heard from Michael he was quoting about 61 percent year over year. The inventory is actually the most challenging aspect of the market right now. The improvements we have seen in the number of homes for sale have been in the middle market but what's really the most hampered are the homes priced below or $200 or $150 thousand. There's a huge discrepancy between buyers and sellers, way more buyers than sellers right now.

Ted Simons: For that under $200,000?

Kristena Hansen: Right. There are generally for the most part the luxury home market seems to be okay. Middle is still a little bit imbalanced but we're seeing a huge imbalance in the lower ranges.

Ted Simons: That inventory problem, how do you fix that? How does that reverse itself?

Mike Orr: At the low end I'm not seeing any sort of significant solution until all of those rentals that have been created out of the bank-owned homes and foreclosures, if they start seeing higher vacancy rates then the investors will start selling those back for ownership. But at the moment they are holding on to them because they have tenants in them and they are making money. The place where things are easier for buyers is above $200,000 up to about $500,000. Mainly because many of the buyers have really got a bit of fatigue right now with prices having gone up by 50 percent, with interest rates also going up, maybe it's not such a good idea. They are standing on the sidelines.

Ted Simons: What are we seeing as far as lenders are concerned? Are things loosening up a bit? Is it still tough to get a mortgage these days?

Kristena Hansen: It's still fairly tough. I went through it myself recently. Before the downturn the saying was if you breathed you got a loan. Now it felt like I had to give the rights to my first and second born child when I was signing away the documents at the loan company. It was interesting. But that's another one of the challenges for first time home buyers right now and for lower income buyers, not only do they have the supply constraints, there is nothing to choose from, but then they are having a hard time getting loans. Getting approved even though it's not just proving -- you have to have a really good credit score, you have to show at least two years worth of time that you've worked in a specific industry. There's all kinds of stuff. It's not just -- you have to prove it now too.

Ted Simons: You mentioned you went through the process recently. We have heard horror stories of people trying to buy homes for themselves, and finding out that investors and someone else, a parade of folks in front of them waving, jumping, shouting, having bids going up. Did you see any of that?

Kristena Hansen: Oh, yes. With every bid we put in actually. We actually bid against about four houses and we had competition with every one of them. We don't know who the other buyers were. The homes we did lose were pretty much to cash buyers. That was definitely a challenge. Just because you're a cash buyer doesn't mean you're an investor, but still it was frustrating because we were offering the same amount of money. We had friends that looked for a home for well over a year and they had to increase their over-all budget in order to adjust themselves to get into a house.

Ted Simons: Are those kinds of stories on the wane or are we going to see those for a while?

Mike Orr: I think they are on the wane. The market is cooling off, heading more towards normality. It's still a struggle at lower price ranges but things are heading back to a more sedate base. I think prices will go up a little bit more slowly. Buyers will get more respect from sellers. There's a lot less cash, more finance transactions going on and I think lenders are also going to be a little bit more lenient on the underwriting side. The refinancing business has really dried up with the higher rate so there's incentive for them to lend to a larger group of people and maybe relax those restrictions a bit.

Ted Simons: Before we go, we've talked about real estate here as if it has been in its own little cocoon. It does not exist in a bubble. The economy over all, we just saw a slight uptick as far as unemployment rate is concerned, seasonal averages there kind of make that a little bit iffy, but talk about the impact of jobs and the economy in general on the housing market.

Mike Orr: I think it's very significant. We have had a lot of help in the initial stages of recovery from investors and from people from out of the state wanting to buy second homes. They have done their bit. As they fade into the back ground, normal homeowners need to take up the slack. If we're not getting jobs for those people, if the job situation isn't improving we will start to see a big slow-down in the pace of recovery. I don't think we will see a turn-down but it will be relatively slow compared to what we've just seen.

Ted Simons: The impact of stagnant job growth and stagnant population growth on the housing market here in the Phoenix area. What are you seeing?

Kristena Hansen: Can you repeat the question?

Ted Simons: The idea that fewer people are moving to Arizona and fewer people getting work. Obviously the economy is a big factor here. Is it as much of a factor as we think it is?

Kristena Hansen: On the housing market? I would say so absolutely. Just the construction industry, for example, that's really been struggling for workers when the downturn hit. That was one of our biggest industries. So many people, thousands and thousands of construction workers lost their jobs. They had to either leave the state completely or they had to retire, find new careers. Now the industry is having a really hard time as the recoveries coming back in the housing market they are having a hard time finding workers to build the homes. That's just one example of how it impacts.

Ted Simons: Before we go, that new home market, how is that shaping up? Are builders building?

Mike Orr: They are building more than they did two years ago but still only about a third of the number that were building in the mid 90's. It's relatively low. If we did get a significant increase in population then we'd be short of homes. At the moment they are not struggling because there's a limited population buying and a limited number of people moving into the state right now.

Ted Simons: Good information. Good to have you both here. Thanks for joining us.

Mike Orr:Director, Real Estate Center at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University; Kristena Hansen: Phoenix Business Journal

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