For the past 25 years, Mike Ela has been a numbers plumber for the housing industry.

He accumulates, analyzes and distributes U.S. property information, pulling from one source to help define and explain another statistic or trend. He has designed tools that determine home values, enabling potential buyers to take a more focused look at specific cities and neighborhoods.

For the past 25 years, Mike Ela has been a numbers plumber for the housing industry.

He accumulates, analyzes and distributes U.S. property information, pulling from one source to help define and explain another statistic or trend. He has designed tools that determine home values, enabling potential buyers to take a more focused look at specific cities and neighborhoods.

Given all the bleak news regarding the bursting foreclosure rate, lenders going out of business and unemployment numbers rising, Ela went looking for some better news on the real estate front. While he found that values have dropped almost everywhere, there are some areas of the country that are reasonably stable and where risk factors are minimal.

Ela believes stability matters, especially in uncertain markets. Over the long haul, stable areas tend to fare better from a value standpoint than those experiencing high foreclosure, property flipping and volatile sales trends.

"We are all a little tired of bad news in real estate, so I went looking through the statistics for some better news and chose the lowest-risk 100 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) out of 379 that we analyze," Ela said. "There are a number of them that haven’t been so badly affected, particularly in the area of foreclosures, so there is some good news out there."

Ela’s company, HomeSmartReports.com, followed home mortgages from Dec. 1, 2007 to Nov. 30, 2008, and then broke down the data into two value levels or "grades." The first is a numerical score for a larger region, or MSA. It is a Collateral Risk Measure (CRM) and is based on a scale of 0-100 where zero is very stable and 100 is extremely risky. Risk components include foreclosure activity, property flipping, sales volatility, property history and site influencing factors (nearby highways, attractive parks, etc.) that can positively or negatively affect values in an area.

Drilling down deeper, the second grade is a Market Risk Score from A-F based on local market factors to rate areas around a specific property. A is a low risk score and F is an Extremely High Risk score. There are 5 categories: A=Low Risk, B=Moderate Risk, C=Medium Risk, D=Medium High and F=Extremely High, and these apply to individual properties. In order to receive the "grade" of a specific property, visitors need to register and pay for the individual property report.

The larger component of the survey revealed that the MSA with the least amount of risk was Hinesville-Fort Stewart in Georgia, while Michigan’s Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn region got the worst grade.

What was the most surprising finding in the survey?

"Frankly, there are a lot of good areas where investors and people thinking of moving should consider," Ela said. "If these areas have done reasonably well in these times, the future is likely pretty bright for them.

"The other surprise was that California, Colorado and Florida didn’t place one MSA in the Top 100, and New York only had one: Nassau-Suffolk. It suggests to me that the smaller metro areas may be more appealing for the long term. That could be due to quality of life, the economic base and other factors versus the high intensity and higher prices of more urbanized areas."

For 20 years, Ela was president of La Jolla, Calif.-based DataQuick Information Systems, a company that provided statistics to Realtors, title insurers, mortgage lenders, investigators, appraisers and home insurance providers. He gained a national reputation for helping to develop the Replacement Cost Calculator specifically for insurance carriers. In a matter of seconds, the tool provides replacement costs for residential property. It showed insurance companies that they could better manage their own risk, but also demonstrated to their customers that they have a firm grasp of the replacement costs of the residential properties they insure.

Ela now has focused on buyer and seller, and has gone to great lengths to provide complete, individualized reports. Buyers and sellers should be aware of as many positives and negatives before completing a transaction.

"Consumers need to understand that they need to go beyond price to really understand underlying value," Ela said. The information is available on our site and other places as well. ‘I didn’t know’ just isn’t a good excuse any longer."

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