First came a historic national crash in home prices, then a surprisingly sharp jolt off the bottom. Investors, desperate for yield and fueled by Fed-induced cheap cash, swarmed the most distressed housing markets, buying bargain-basement properties and turning them into rentals. Some markets saw double-digit annual price appreciation. Some analysts started to float the word “bubble,” again.
Now, finally, reality is setting in yet again.
Foreclosures have fallen to new lows since the crisis, and investors, while not selling their homes, are not buying nearly as many. That has taken much of the air out of home prices. In addition, the number of homes for sale is rising, pushing sellers from the driver’s seat to the way, way back.
“What a difference a year makes,” said Stan Humphries, chief economist at Zillow. “At this time last year, we were worrying about a number of frothy markets that looked like they could be on the edge of another housing bubble, places where homes were appreciating at more than 20 percent per year and where buyers’ heads were spinning just trying to keep up.”
Now those markets, while not in the red, are barely in the black. Los Angeles, for example, saw home prices rise over 18 percent in the third quarter of 2013 from the same time in 2012. Now its annual appreciation for the quarter is down to 8 percent, according to Zillow.
“Buyers don’t have the same sense of urgency as they did before. They can be a little bit more discerning,” said Greg Bender, a Los Angeles-area Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices.
Bender is seeing homes sit on the market far longer than they did just six months ago. It is no longer a seller’s market.
In Phoenix, hard hit by the housing crash and a favorite among investors in 2012 and 2013, the price deflation is even more dramatic. Last year, prices were up 18 percent annually at this time. Today they are up barely 1 percent. Demand and supply are low.
“Most of the median-price increase over the last 12 months is because a greater percentage of the homes being sold are in the luxury market, not because home values overall are increasing,” Arizona State University’s Mike Orr wrote in a recent report. “We anticipate pricing will move sideways or slightly down over the next few months until supply and demand get back into balance.”
While most housing analysts do not expect home prices to go negative on a national level again, some have floated that possibility. Home prices soared from 2003 to 2007 due to cheap and easy credit. When that went away, prices plummeted nationally for the first time in history.