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Monday, September 20, 2010

It ain't over 'til it's over...

That is a very famous piece of advice/philosophy from the master - Yogi Berra. He also coined the phrase "If you don't know where you're going, you might not get there." Both are useful to describe things in the real estate market these days. In many ways we don't know where we're going, because we're in uncharted waters in the current recession. And I'll be darned if I can tell if we're at the bottom of the market locally or may have already bottomed out and have started back.

A part of the confusion in the Michigan real estate market is caused by our horrendous unemployment situation - 13+%. There seems to be no end in sight for that, even though the local automakers have been through their rightsizing efforts. Most of the shakeout in the tier-one supplier base is also over, but the ripple effect through the entire supplier base is on-going. Basically, uncertainty reigns and no good can come out of uncertainty.

As I look at the data that I track, things don't seem all that bad. Houses are selling and more and more of them are houses above $200K, with fewer of them being foreclosures and short-sales. However, there is this impending sense of doom out there, too; because there is as big pool of homes that are delinquent but not yet foreclosed. I'm not sure if the banks are just holding back on foreclosures to try to stabilize the market or perhaps to keep more red ink off their books; but, it sure seems that they are going longer before pulling the trigger on the Sheriff's Sale these days. Perhaps some of the government's loan modification programs are working; but, my sense is that the banks are just holding back for purely selfish reasons.

I my little patch the percentage of sales that involve foreclosures and short sales slipped below 50% again last week - now down to 41% for September in the 6 market areas that I track. That's good news. The percentage of asked vs. sold prices in these markets has also crept up to about the historic norm of 97%. That means that homes are being priced properly and that buyers perceive that the asking prices correctly reflect the values. To see all of the local statistics for my market area, go to and click on the Local Real Estate Statistics choice.

So, if it ain't over until it's over; how will we know when it's over? We likely won't know. We'll look back on some point in time and reflect that this is when things changes and the market started back. It's sort of like the economic numbers that economists use. They are always a quarter or two behind and they are almost always "adjusted" after the fact. Since Realtors are always using past sales to predict the future for new listings, we will undoubtedly miss the change by anywhere from a month to a quarter. We'll keep an eye on it for you, since Yogi also said, "You can observe a lot by watching."

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