This post is adapted from the author’s testimony at a recent hearing before the U.S. Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee.
Many of the major negative housing trends that dominated the headlines since the crisis are now well off their post-crisis peaks. While prices are only flat to slightly down year-over-year, there is finally some optimism for probably the first time in more than three years. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s examine some of the economic fundamentals and also assess the policy and regulatory headwinds that are still blowing from Washington.
New delinquencies are trending lower on a percentage basis. The decline in home prices also appears to be leveling off or approaching a bottom on a national basis. Data from CoreLogic suggests that house prices have increased, on average, across the country over the first three months of 2012 when excluding distressed sales. Even the numbers from the Case-Shiller Index out this week suggest that a floor in home prices has been reached.
There is also a relative decline in the supply of homes for sale. The chart below shows how the existing stock of homes for sale is now approaching a level equal to five to six months of sales. This is a very promising development. According to the Commerce Department, the housing inventory fell to just over five months of sales in the first quarter, the lowest level since the end of 2005.
In short, the level of housing supply today suggests that the market is close to equilibrium, which implies house prices should rise at a rate consistent with rents. Market analysts often look at a level above or below six months of sales as either favoring buyers or sellers, respectively. It’s not surprising then that the recent stabilization of home prices nationally has occurred as the existing inventory, or supply level, has declined.