Las Vegas. Miami. San Diego. Phoenix. Real estate markets in these cities, among others, were popularized as pay dirt during the latest real estate Gold Rush — with sky-high price appreciation, fast sales and droves of investors seeking a slice of the action.

That was then. Now, real estate economists are singing a different tune. The U.S. housing market is clearly slowing down, and formerly hot markets are the “not” markets.

But some markets do not march to the beat of the national trends.

Las Vegas. Miami. San Diego. Phoenix. Real estate markets in these cities, among others, were popularized as pay dirt during the latest real estate Gold Rush — with sky-high price appreciation, fast sales and droves of investors seeking a slice of the action.

That was then. Now, real estate economists are singing a different tune. The U.S. housing market is clearly slowing down, and formerly hot markets are the “not” markets.

But some markets do not march to the beat of the national trends. While several industry economists have said they expect home sales to drop this year compared to 2005 levels, with slowing rates of price appreciation, some parts of the country are running counter to this down cycle.

Mark Dotzour chief economist for The Real Estate Center, a research center at Texas A&M University, said he gave a presentation earlier this year to a group of Texas mortgage professionals in which he asked how many of them had recently closed a mortgage loan for a California resident — about 75 percent raised their hands in response.

“This is quite a deluge. It’s quite widespread,” Dotzour said of the influx of California buyers to the Texas market. “We’re starting to see a pretty significant migration of California people not only buying property for investment but moving here to live.”

Several housing markets in the state are now emerging from the doldrums of the dot-com bust and Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Employment and housing markets in the state were slow to rebound from these events, which kept home prices low while many other real estate markets throughout the country experienced an unprecedented and prolonged surge of home sales and price appreciation, Dotzour said.

Several communities in Texas appear to be ripe for a boom as the national housing market winds down from its formerly feverish pace, he noted. “There are places where we are seeing substantial increases in prices. Not only are sales up but price appreciation is increasing at an increasing rate.”

Real estate markets in other states, too, are picking up while former boomtowns have begun their descent. The North Carolina Association of Realtors reported that existing-home sales in May jumped 4 percent from May 2005, with sales in the Charlotte area rising 14 percent during that period. Also, statewide sales rose 10 percent from January through May this year compared to the first five months of 2005.

In Idaho’s Ada County, which includes the capital city of Boise, existing-home sales grew 16 percent from May 2005 to May 2006 and the median price increased 26 percent from May 2005 to May 2006, according to Intermountain Multiple Listing Service statistics.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Realtors reported that the national rate of existing-home sales dropped 6.6 percent in May 2006 compared to May 2005. And the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the rate of new-home sales fell 5.9 percent in May compared to May 2005.

In Texas, Odessa and Midland led in home-price appreciation in the fourth quarter 2005, Dotzour said — Odessa had 15 percent year-over-year price growth for the quarter. Real estate markets in El Paso, San Antonio, Wichita Falls, Corpus Christi, Tyler and Brownsville, among others, are also on the upswing.

Dotzour said that Texas has been cited by some industry experts as an undervalued real estate market. “You can still buy a really nice home for $100 a square foot in Texas,” he said. Waves of new-home construction in the state since 2002 have helped to moderate home prices, he said.

Some airline companies with major hubs in Texas have stabilized since the blow of Sept. 11, he said, and the high-tech industry is also making a comeback. Those factors, along with gaining strength in the oil and gas industry and the influx of new businesses and residents in Texas, have set the stage for an improving real estate market.

“Texas traditionally has run somewhat counter-cyclical to the national economy,” Dotzour said, though that may be changing. “So much of its economic fortune is related to oil and gas.” As the price of oil and gas and related chemicals rises, Texas tends to prosper while the rest of the nation suffers, he said. The state’s economy has diversified in the past 20 years, so that Texas now “looks and acts a lot more like (the rest of) the U.S. than it used to. Most of Texas now is more in tune with the rhythms of the U.S. economy.”

Texas is a fairly young state, Dotzour said, and the state is experiencing its own baby boom. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that Texas will be one of the fastest-growing states in the nation from 2000-2030, with a population increase of 59.8 percent in that time. The population in Nevada, meanwhile, is expected to grow 114.3 percent in that time, followed by Arizona at 108.8 percent and Florida at 79.5 percent. Other fast-growing states include Utah, with projected population growth of 56.1 percent from 2000-2030, Idaho at 52.2 percent, North Carolina at 51.9 percent, Georgia at 46.8 percent, Washington at 46.3 percent and Oregon at 41.3 percent.

Mary Manry, managing broker for Brants Realtors, a real estate company in Fort Worth, Texas, said her market area is expecting “tremendous growth in the next 10 to 15 years. We’ve got room to grow. We’ve got space. We’ve got a (nearby) international airport, a diversified economy.” The underground amenities — namely natural gas deposits — are also an asset for the region, she said.

“We see a big influx of California investors,” Manry said, noting that Californians can buy a lot more house in Texas for a lot less than they could in their own state.

“We are certainly not in a down market,” she said. “I think we will see the benefits of a lot of these overheated markets coming this direction.”

Statewide, home sales in Texas increased 8.3 percent for the first five months of 2006 compared to the same period last year, according to statistics compiled by Texas A&M’s The Real Estate Center. And from May 2005 to May 2006, the total inventory of for-sale properties declined 5 percent, the median price of sold homes increased 6.3 percent, and the supply of for-sale homes dropped from 5.8 months to five months — all indications of a seller’s market that is gaining steam.

In Fort Worth, home sales for the first five months of the year are up 12.2 percent compared to the same period last year, though the inventory of for-sale properties has risen from 6 months in January ’06 to 6.5 months in May, suggesting the Fort Worth area is increasingly a buyer’s market — a supply greater than six months is generally considered to indicate a buyer’s market.

“We’re still seeing pretty good activity and our projections are probably what is most important,” Manry said. The home-building industry may have overbuilt a bit in the region, she said, adding that the extra supply should be absorbed by the expected growth.

Dotzour said that suburban areas near major cities, such as Dallas and Houston, are likely magnets for future growth. In addition to homegrown population growth in Texas and the in-migration of Californians, another growth engine is foreign immigration, he said. Some real estate professionals have noted a general trend in real estate booms spreading east from California into neighboring states, namely Arizona and Nevada, and Texas may be a beneficiary of this eastward real estate investment trend, Dotzour said.

While Californians are feeding real estate market growth in Texas, North Carolina is seeing an influx from Florida and other Eastern states, said Renee Hentschel, an associate broker for Realty Executives in Hickory, N.C. “Sales have doubled for me, personally. A lot of that is due to a lot of folks from Florida. They’re cashing out on the homes they bought, taking the equity, and coming here. They’re actually getting more house for their money,” she said.

Sales in the Catawba Valley area of North Carolina that Hentschel serves increased 29 percent in May ’06 compared to May ’05, while the average sales price of existing homes in the area increased 13 percent in that time. “Things aren’t sitting on the market quite as long as they were before. It had been a buyer’s market. Right now we’re in between — moving toward getting into a seller’s market. I think we’re in transition.”

North Carolina seems to lag behind the rest of the nation in real estate trends, Hentschel said. “We hear about this big real estate boom and we’re (saying), ‘Where’s it at?’ A couple of years later we hear about the slowdown. We’re not slowing down here,” she said.

Sharon Lyons, broker in charge at Network Real Estate’s office in Carolina Beach, N.C., said that properties in her market area dramatically appreciated in a short period of time last year, and she attributes the surge to increased interest by people from other states, especially retirees from the Northeast. Buyers in the area are looking mainly for second homes to serve as investment or retirement properties, Lyons said.

Sales have slowed in the area this year, though, falling 24 percent in Wilmington in May compared to May 2006, according to the North Carolina Association of Realtors. Meanwhile, the average sales price in Wilmington rose 15 percent in May compared to May ’05.

Trela Bird, a Realtor with McDonald Group GMAC Real Estate in Midvale, Utah, said the Greater Salt Lake City began to boom last year. “We’re seeing a very strong seller’s market now,” she said.

“We’re seeing a lot (of buyers) from California, and a little bit from some of the East Coast states, some from Texas, Arizona and Nevada. I think the news has gone out — we’re number four in job growth right now and prices compared to a lot of places are still reasonable,” Bird said.

“We get people from California (who say), ‘Oh, wow. We can get twice the house for half the price,” she said, though prices have been climbing. Buyers from out of state seem most interested in new and newer homes, she said.

A Coldwell Banker office in Utah reported that the average days on market of a home for sale in Salt Lake County declined from 61 in January 2005 to 43 in January 2006, while the average price of single-family homes in the county grew 17.3 percent in that time, from $196,925 to $230,953.

Also, the National Association of Realtors reported that total single-family and condo sales in Utah grew 12.7 percent from first-quarter 2005 to first-quarter 2006 — the seventh-highest increase among all states.

“We seem to be opposite of the national trend,” Bird said. “We had a very slow, steady market up until about March or April of last year.”

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