It's too early to make absolute predictions, but discussions with top real estate appraisers across the country point to an unmistakable conclusion: Nineteen eighty-five could produce the first significant gain in home resale values since 1979 in many markets.
Lower interest rates, rising family incomes and buoyant consumer optimism about the nation's economic future are beginning to nudge single-family, detached-unit resale values beyond the rate of inflation -- a trend that should be plainly visible by the peak demand season this May and June.
Not every market will feel the upswing, appraisers are quick to caution. Local economies with little or no employment growth, or those with heavy unsold inventories of subdivision homes and condominiums, such as Houston, won't come out of their residential slump rapidly. But in the mainstream of metropolitan markets, 1985's favorable economics should boost the value of homeowners' equity holdings by at least 2 percentage points beyond the underlying 4 percent rate of inflation.
This year should see three types of home appreciation markets, say appraisers: the Super-Achievers, the Middle-Range Rebounders and the Under-Achievers.
The Super-Achievers are those in which resale values have been outpacing the national rate of inflation by a large margin for at least the past year and should continue to do so for all of 1985. The top two cities on the super list include once-staid Boston -- now dubbed "California east" -- and high-tech, high-gain Austin, Tex.
Residential values in the economically surging Boston area have been increasing at a minimum 15 percent annual rate, according to appraiser Richard J. Dennis, a national board member of the Society of Real Estate Appraisers. Statistics released by the Greater Boston Real Estate Board show median home prices up by 23 percent from 1983 to 1984.
More eye-opening than the hard numbers, however,, has been the ferocity of competition in the marketplace, Boston appraisers say. "It's been like piranhas in the Amazon in some neighborhoods," said Dennis. Sellers of highly desirable in-town and suburban property get multiple offers from eager buyers, and they frequently end up selling for more than the original asking price. This might be reminiscent of Los Angeles or Washington, D.C., in the go-go years of the 1970s, but there hasn't been such boom-town bidding in the Bay State in decades.
Austin, Tex., hasn't been quite so wild and woolly as Boston, but its rapid employment expansion has pushed the average rate of increase in home prices beyond 15 percent the past year.
Milton Morse, an Austin-based member of the board of governors of the Society of Real Estate Appraisers, says 1985's lower interest rates "are going to keep us in double digits all year long."
The average $55,000 Austin home sold in 1979 goes for $102,000 today, according to Morse, and should top $110,000 before the end of the year. The biggest Austin-area jumps, however, haven't been in houses, but in raw land for building, Morse added. One local group of sharp investors bought a 400-acre land package for $5 million cash last year and sold it to a New York group for $43 million 90 days later, Morse said.
The second group of bellwether appraisal markets for 1985 -- by far the largest -- will be Middle-Range Rebounders, according to appraisers. These are all economically balalanced local economies that have recovered steadily from the tough years of the early 1980s. Affordable mortgage money and rising local incomes should push values of well-locatedsituated detached houses -- though not necessarily condominiums -- up by an average 4 to 7 percent this year. Included here are Washington, Dallas, Los Angeles and Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif., Kansas City, Chicago, Philadelphia and Atlanta, to name a handful.
The final category for 1985 is the Under-Achievers: those markets whose local economies either haven't caught the wave of the national recovery or who simply have too many houses at too high an average price for the current population. Houston, where 1985 home values in many neighborhoods are stuck below where they were in 1983, is the largest and best-known case in point. Others include Sun Belt cities such as San Diego, where local incomes haven't fully caught up with the inflationary explosions in home prices of the 1970s. Detached single-family San Diego homes are moving up in value at or slightly below the national rate of inflation, according to local appraisers, but won't catch fire again soon, no matter now low mortgage rates go.
Rents in San Diego, on the other hand, are among the fastest-rising in the United States at the moment -- about 10 percent a year. As a result, resale values of apartment buildings are doing just what home values are not: moving up at a 12 to 15 percent annual clip.