Why homes are hitting bubble-era prices without bubble-era headaches


The recovery remains underway. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Home values in a few states have surpassed the price peaks reached during the housing boom, but that doesn’t mean a return to the days of frothy pricing.

In March, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Wyoming and the District of Columbia exceeded their old highs, the mortgage firm CoreLogic reported Tuesday based on its own price index. Still, there’s no reason to fear a price bubble in those markets,  said Mark Fleming, the group's chief economist.

Home values in those states are reacting to improved economies in their respective regions, Fleming said. For instance, prices are doing well in Texas, Colorado and the Dakotas because significant growth in the energy business is attracting an influx of new residents to those states, just as a reliable supply of work continues to draw people to the D.C. area. There’s nothing to worry about when home prices rise in line with economic fundamentals, Fleming said.

Increased demand for homes leads to price growth, especially when the supply is tight. “You only need a little positive price appreciation and strong demographics going in your favor in those areas to surpass the prior peak,” Fleming said.  “None of those were bubble markets.”

By contrast, California and Nevada were, and prices there are rising for different reasons.

Home values in those states climbed fastest during the boom years and then crashed hardest during the crisis. They too experienced price gains in March from a year ago, with increases of 17.2 percent in California and 15.5 percent in Nevada.  But these hard-hit states also have more ground to recover.

Consider that prices in Nevada declined 60 percent from peak to trough. That means a home valued at $1 million during the boom, was worth $400,000 during the bust.  Even if it’s gained 30 percent in value since then, it’s still only at just over half of what it was worth at its peak.

“In places that remain way down from their peak, there are still quite a few borrowers that are upside down,” meaning they owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, said Sam Khater, CoreLogic’s chief deputy economist. “Those markets still suffer from distress despite the price gains.”

Many of those states experienced extraordinary double-digit price increases during the past two years only because investors stepped in, bought distressed properties at huge discounts and helped put a bottom under the market.  But now that home prices and mortgage rates are climbing, the investors are retreating and the price gains are moderating.

CoreLogic estimates that prices will rise 6.7 percent percent in the coming year.

Here’s a look at CoreLogic’s analysis of peak-to-trough declines nationwide:


 

 

 

Dina ElBoghdady covers housing policy for The Washington Post.
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