Fearless Prediction – The Seattle Fair Weather Real Estate Recovery

That is right; I have studied the maps, looked at the stars, consulted the hair ball, worn out my boots and talked to those who should know.  The news is encouraging. Foot traffic is up at open houses.  Sellers with listings are serious about selling their homes.  Rates are down, very down.  The State of Washington is close to a measure that will allow qualified first time homebuyer’s to utilize their full tax credit this year, before they file their 2009 return.  Everything is in alignment.  This is the perfect scenario for our recovery to officially begin.  All we need is good weather.

The Farmers’ Almanac provides support for my bold prediction.  You see, according to the Farmers’ Almanac we are going to have great weather on the weekends of May 8th and May 16th.  Puget Sounders will spend at least part of the May 8th weekend finishing work in their yards.  When the next weekend of good weather rolls around (May 16th) mom will have cabin fever and will want to get out.  Most will stay close to home because the Memorial Day weekend follows.  What better way to spend a lovely weekend with the yard work done than visiting the local offerings of homes for sale?  It is free, always interesting and of course you have the chance to engage with any number of local, committed real estate professionals.

I say transactions will be started after the weekend of May 16th.  That week will be full of counter offers and final agreements.  On May 26th, everyone in our market will agree, the real estate market has turned the corner.  

Count on it.  The Farmers’ Almanac told me so.

Greater Seattle. Home Sales in a Pickle

 The Seattle King County Association of Realtors brought in Dr. Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist for the National Association of Realtors for their annual Broker Summit last Friday. He prefaced his presentation with the long run postulate, “everything is going to be just fine in the long run “(OU Delt house, ’71) He reiterated how we got where we are (credit bubble = housing bubble), presented an overview of the housing stimulus package (let’s hope it works as it is a one shot deal) and gave us his analysis of the short term outlook for our region.

The data he used for his short term outlook surprised me because he made a direct comparison of Seattle and Orange County, California. He noted that historically as California goes, so goes the West Coast. He cited that California has a net loss of population (citizens and legal residents) while our region continues to grow (with many new residents from California). He also cited that California was losing jobs and the Seattle area was relatively stable.

He displayed a graph that showed that the rise in home values in Orange County was far steeper than our region and hence, the downward correction was far more drastic. He went on to say that the sale of existing homes in Orange County is up 100% from the same period one year ago and that the trend is likely to continue.

He then cited three things in our region that added together spell a recovery in home sales. Median income in our region has been relatively steady, median home prices have fallen and that combination coupled with the affordability (a calculation using median income, median home prices and current interest rates) should spell a housing recovery. In fact, the affordability index in the entire country has never been this favorable according to Dr. Yun.

In spite of this the sale of existing homes fell dramatically from January to February of this year. It is obvious that current demand is driven by buyers looking for bargains. Lower mortgage rates in December drove new sales and closings in January. January’s very modest rise in rates caused buyers to step back, waiting for the return of rates in the 4’s.

So there is the pickle. Unless rates fall back to December levels or buyers figure out that rates today are as low as they will be for a long time, buyers will stay on the sidelines.

Is Shiller Right?

The quote below is from Jim Randel, a real estate expert and author on many topics real estate and money related.  He presents a chart created by Robert Schiller in 2005.  The chart is interesting and my interprepation of the chart follows (I responded to Jim via email).  It is food for thought in this mad, mad, mad real estate world.






“Since I hold myself out as a real-estate expert, the question that people are always asking me is “how much lower?”    In other words, how much lower will housing prices go before they hit bottom?
Here is what this chart tells us:  that from 1890 through 1950, excepting the World War I and II periods, housing prices stayed within a fairly narrow range (adjusted for inflation).  As you can see, in the year 2000 housing values were only about 10% above Shiller’s benchmark (1890 values).  But then look at what happened in 2000!!
In just five years or so, prices doubled – fueled as we all know by a nasty cocktail of greed, bad lending, hyper-low interest rates, and an unquestioning belief in the premise that housing prices always go up. 
So where are housing prices headed??  Well the dotted line on this chart shows you one interpretation of how much further prices have to fall:  another 30% or so before they reach year 2000 levels and a point of seeming equilibrium (based on a 110-year history).
Don’t ruin your day by looking at the graph’s location in the “Great Depression” period (1920 – 1940).  I would argue that stretch is an aberration.  From 1950 – 2000, housing prices were pretty stable.
By the way, here is how Shiller describes what happened between 2000 – 2006 … sound familiar??”

“Irrational exuberance is the psychological basis of a speculative bubble … a situation in which news of price increases spurs investor enthusiasm, which spreads by psychological contagion from person to person, in the process amplifying stories that might justify the price increases and bringing in a larger and larger class of investors, who, despite doubts about the real value of an investment, are drawn to it partly through envy of others successes and partly through a gambler’s excitement.”     
Well, of course, I don’t know, but the chart below, produced by economist Robert Shiller and excerpted from his book, Irrational Exuberance (Doubleday, 2d Edition, 2005) shows you what many economists think.




Craig Goebbel from Real Estate Radio, here.  I don’t want to argue with your interpretation about another 30% drop in home values but I have a different perspective from the very same chart.  Note that since 1950 there is a floor of support above $105,000.  Why?  I would argue it is a result of more efficient markets, the consistent availability of 30-year fixed rate mortgages and a growing population.  The other factor is the increased cost to build new homes due to the myriad of fees associated with a new home and developing its building site.


So, my interpretation is we are at the bottom overall, with some pain still on its way for some regions around the country. 


I am not an economist but if you want four opinions on the economy, ask three economists.


Craig E. Goebbel


206-601-9824 – Mobile

253-906-5626 – Mobile


Jim is a good guy to follow and you can find him at www.jimrandel.com.

My World and Welcome to it!

Pardon my borrowing a line from a James Thurber short story.  My first post went up today and it occurred to me I should tell you what I will be writing about.  I will be focused almost exclusively on residential real estate, mortgage lending and the real estate industry in general.  Occasionally, I will comment on the topical or political since I won’t be able to stop myself.  I will bring passion and common sense with a sense of humor to this blog. 

Please feel free to comment and take me to task. If we all agree I will die of boredom.  Not!  If you don’t shake it up, I will.   Last, if you really want to take me to task call me when I am on my radio show, I co-host and produce a live, weekly radio show on KKOL 1300 am in Seattle every Saturday morning at 9:00 am.

Creating clarity in the complex world of residential real estate and real estate finance. Written by Craig Goebbel.