by Broderick Perkins
If home prices were up all year as much as they've risen in the past two quarters, the housing market would be enjoying home price increases in the 6 percent neighborhood this year, thanks to a host of favorable factors.
Lower home prices, tax incentives, record low mortgage rates, foreclosure abatement measures and returning investors are coming together to send more buyers to market.
Home prices were up in the third quarter at an annualized rate of 3.8 percent and 8.2 percent in the second quarter, according to Freddie Mac's Conventional Mortgage Home Price Index (CMHPI) Purchase-Only Series.
The index registered an actual 0.9 percent quarterly gain, during the third quarter 2009 following a 2.0 percent gain in the second quarter. Together the two-quarter increase erased two-fifths of the home price declines registered during the final quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009.
Happy days aren't quite hear again, however.
U.S. home sale prices remain down 3.9 percent from a year ago, according to the index.
"Home prices, excluding the gross distortions present in recent decades, have historically been based on a multiple of the household median income. Eventually we should see a return to the basic principle where home values rise and fall with the collective growth and contraction of the home buyer's median income," said Nancy Osborne, chief operating officer of ERATE, a Santa Clara, CA-based financial information publisher and interest rate tracker.
"Of course the supply and demand of housing in each local region will remain a key valuation factor as well," she added.
Over the past five years, home prices remain down by double digits in some regions including the West South Central Division, by 20.5 percent; Middle Atlantic Division, by 16.2 percent and East South Central Division, by 15.4 percent, Freddie Mac Reported.
But even California's new home market is showing signs of recovery.
The pace of new home sales in the Golden State rose above year-ago levels for the first time since December of 2006, according to the California Building Industry Association (CBIA).
The October 20009 CBIA/Hanley Wood Market Intelligence (HWMI) New-Home Sales and Pricing Report showed that sales in new-home communities of 10 units or more, were 25 percent above October 2008, the first notable increase since the start of the housing downturn.
"While this month's figures are encouraging, we must keep in mind that we're comparing the figures to October of 2008, which was the second lowest month of nominal sales we've seen during the downturn," said Jonathan Dienhart for HWMI.
"Examining the data in a rolling twelve months, tells a more realistic increase, with a 1.5 percent rise from last month," he added.
The same is true nationwide.
"Prices are still down relative to their peaks in most markets. For example, as measured by the CMHPI, values in the New England, East North Central and Pacific divisions are at 2004 levels, on average, and the South Atlantic, West North Central, and Mountain states' home values are at 2005 levels. In contrast, average values in the West South Central area have tied their previous peak from the third quarter of 2008, while average home values in the Middle Atlantic and East South Central states have reached 2006 and 2007 levels, respectively," said Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist.