I continually find myself tempering the exuberance of homeowners who are absolutely dead set on the idea that all home values will soon appreciate.
The latest example occurred on a long bicycle ride around one of my favorite mountain lakes. I try to make the trip a few times a summer, but the weather and writing deadlines often get in the way. This past week, I was aware of a rising number of for-sale signs (both national firms and for sale by owner) on lakefront homes. One particular home had been on the market at least two years, and a "price reduced" label hung from the bottom of the sign.
As I approached the driveway, the owner shut down the motor of his power trimmer. After we exchanged pleasantries, he launched into his hopeful pitch.
"I’m pretty sure it’ll sell this summer," the owner said. "We reduced the price again and things are looking better as far as the economy is concerned. I’m sure the worst is finally behind us. Prices will be going up."
But that does not necessarily mean the owner will get back all the money he’s put into the property. He overbuilt for the area, including expensive interior finishes and furnishings.
I remembered when the house was built — the first real home among older cabins on that stretch of the lake road. The place has four bedrooms and three baths, with a paved driveway and tile roof. A rolling lawn leads to a nice dock and boathouse. It was the man’s second home, but it is larger and nicer than any home we’ve ever owned.
When I researched the home online, it showed the price as $100,000 below the assessed value assigned by the county. If the owner of the lake home found a buyer this summer, he would lose a significant amount of money at closing. In his view, finding a buyer — any buyer — would suffice.
While still online, I came across the latest statistics from CoreLogic, a research company that specializes in residential mortgages. The company reported that while 700,000 homeowners regained home equity via rising home prices in the first quarter of 2012, approximately 11.4 million owners — or 23.7 percent of all mortgages — were still underwater.
Obviously, most of the stats refer to primary residences. Second homes, while attractive and "rentable" during the prime weeks of summer, are viewed as a luxury purchase and off the charts of what the average consumer needs. So, while the summer season has brought out more second-home buyers than a year ago, a number of sellers still owe more than what the market will bear.
Those owners who bought decades ago and have decided now is a good time to put their homes on the market will undoubtedly make a profit — not the profit they could have made four years ago, but a profit nonetheless. However, those owners will be facing competition from others simply trying to break even who feel now is a good time to test the market.
This "shadow inventory" (an example of the 700,000 equity gainers mentioned above) would have hit the market earlier had the selling environment been more attractive. So, two important questions remain: How much shadow inventory is out there (where’s the true bottom?) and what factors continue to hold back potential homebuyers?
While interest rates and home prices are attractive, buyers are still skittish to roll the dice. Some neighborhoods and resort areas are receiving multiple offers — supporting the idea that all real estate is local — but the national accelerator is nowhere near the floor. Inquiries are up by 59 percent, according to a survey conducted by the Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council, but closed deals are not following that pace.
REBAC surveyed its buyer agent members to determine the top issues preventing homebuyers in their local markets from completing a home purchase. The top three obstacles identified in its 2012 survey are:
1. Economic insecurity.
2. Difficulties in obtaining financing.
3. Problems selling current home.
Most of the focus in the sluggish housing market has been centered on the number of foreclosures still in the pipeline, homes that lenders are bringing to the market at a glacial pace. But little has been said about the number of households that are current on their payments that have been waiting for the first glimmer of light to sell and move on.
The same can be said about second homes. The first glimmer of light will bring more homes to the market. In many areas, there will be more competition from those who have been waiting for the free fall to stop. Significant appreciation, however, could be a long way down the road.