By Chris Isidore
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — The long-battered housing market is finally starting to get back on its feet. But some experts believe it could soon become another housing boom.
Signs of recovery have been evident in the recent pick ups in home prices, home sales and construction. Foreclosures are also down and the Federal Reserve has acted to push mortgage rates near record lows.
But while many economists believe this emerging housing recovery will produce only slow and modest improvement in home prices, construction and jobs, others believe the rebound will be much stronger.
Barclays Capital put out a report recently forecasting that home prices, which fell by more than a third after the housing bubble burst in 2007, could be back to peak levels as soon as 2015.
“In our view, the housing market had undergone a dramatic over-correction during the prior five years, resulting in pent-up demand for housing purchases that would spark a rapid rise in housing starts,” said Stephen Kim, an analyst with Barclays, in a note to clients.
In addition to what Kim sees as a big rebound in building, he’s bullish on home prices, expecting rises of 5% to 7.5% a year.
Construction is expected to be even stronger, with numerous experts forecasting home construction to grow by at least 20% a year for each of the next two years. Some believe building could be back near the pre-bubble average of about 1.5 million new homes a year by 2016, about double the 750,000 homes expected this year.
“We think the recovery is for real this time around,” said Rick Palacios, senior analyst with John Burns Real Estate Consulting. “If you look across the U.S. economy right now, there are only a handful of industries looking at 20-30% growth over the next 4-5 years, and housing is one of those.”
Home builder stocks are up 162% in the last 12 months, led by a 250% jump at PulteGroup (PHM). Other leading builders including DR Horton (DHI), Toll Brothers (TOL), KB Home (KBH) and Lennar (LEN) have all seen their stocks more than double over that time. New orders at publicly-traded builders are up 30% since January, according to Kim.
Palacios said stocks in other sectors, from manufacturers of drywall to flooring to kitchen and bath fixtures, have all more than doubled as well this year.
The housing rebound can have a ripple effect that could help get the entire economy growing at a much stronger pace, which will add to more demand for housing.
“That turn in the [housing] market is occurring now and it should become a boom by 2015. It will be powerful enough … to lift the entire U.S. economy,” said Roger Altman, chairman of Evercore Partners and former deputy Treasury secretary, in a column for the Financial Times.
Altman said he expects housing will add 4 million jobs to the economy over the next five years, as pent-up demand for home purchases drives building and home prices higher.
By Nick Timiraos
Home prices through July posted their largest year-to-date rise since 2005, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index covering 20 major metropolitan areas.
Prices rose by 5.9% from the end of last year, according to the index, compared with a 0.4% gain for the same period last year and a 2.1% gain in 2010, when tax credits fueled a burst of home sales activity.
Are price gains limited to one segment of the market—say, foreclosed properties?
Not really. Data from real-estate firm CoreLogic show that the increases are being felt across all segments of the market. Overall median home prices in August were up by 12% from one year ago, as are median prices of existing homes that aren’t distressed sales.
Median prices of bank-owned foreclosures were up by 3%, while median prices were flat on short sales, where banks approve the sale of a house for less than the mortgage-debt that’s owed. Median prices of new homes, meanwhile, are up by 6%.
There are still a lot of foreclosures. How could prices be rising?
While foreclosures are still high by historic standards, the share of bank-owned foreclosures that are selling is down sharply over the past few years. Listings of foreclosed properties are down by 24% from one year ago and by more than 45% from two years ago.
While sales of foreclosed properties, which typically sell at a discount, have fallen by about 20% from one year ago, sales of traditional homes are up by 16% from one year ago, according to Ivy Zelman, chief executive at research firm Zelman & Associates. Prices, then, are rising not only because supplies of homes for sale are down, but demand is up.
Are banks strategically holding properties off of the market?
There’s little evidence that banks have seen an increase of marketable, or ready-for-sale, foreclosed properties sitting on their books. It’s true that there are still millions of properties that are in the foreclosure process or where borrowers have missed a couple of mortgage payments, and it’s unclear when or how aggressively banks will move those properties through the foreclosure process. In many cases, lenders and other mortgage companies that handle foreclosures have struggled to meet certain state requirements governing foreclosures. But the actual volumes of foreclosed properties that are sitting on banks books are down by around 24% from one year ago.
How large is the shadow inventory?
Overall, the “shadow inventory” of potential foreclosures is down by around 500,000 from the beginning of the year. Zelman & Associates put its estimate of shadow inventory that exceeds the typical level at around 2.9 million properties.
Shadow inventory, however, is falling more slowly than expected, according to estimates from Zelman, because banks have been taking longer to process foreclosures and less successful at completing loan modifications. Zelman now expects shadow inventory to remain steady this year before falling by 20% to 2.3 million by the end of next year. Earlier estimates had put shadow inventory at 2.6 million and 1.8 million units at the end of this year and next, respectively.
Are home prices going to fall further?
Home prices typically strengthen during the seasonally strong spring and summer months, when there are more people shopping for homes. They weaken in the fall and winter. The key, then, is to monitor the year-over-year change in home prices. Prices in July were 1.2% above their year-ago levels, according to Case-Shiller, with 16 of 20 cities posting year-over-year increases.
If banks continue to push more foreclosure alternatives at a measured pace and if housing demand remains at its current levels, then “home prices are easily past their bottom and are approaching the self-reinforcing portion of the cycle,” wrote Ms. Zelman in a recent report.
The biggest risks to her forecast, she says, are weakness in job growth and the broader economy and tighter credit standards brought on by forthcoming mortgage regulations.