My crystal ball is never as crystal-clear as I'd like, but I do think that we can expect a gradual economic recovery to move the housing market a few steps back toward normal in 2012. Even so, we still have a long ways to go. As we exit 2011, prices still not have rebounded after their huge declines, inventories are still well above normal, and the foreclosure rate is still far higher than before the bubble. Even the best possible 2012 won't get us halfway back toward normal.
Before getting into the predictions, let me be upfront about what I'm assuming. After 14 months of job gains, I expect the economy to continue its slow but determined recovery. I don't do my own macroeconomic forecasts, but every single one of the fifty-ish economic forecasters surveyed by the Wall Street Journal expects the economy to grow throughout 2012, and that makes sense to me. Of course, any unexpected severe political or financial crisis could tip us back into recession, and then all bets are off. Here's to hoping that doesn't happen.
My five predictions for housing in 2012:
- Delinquencies will go down, but foreclosures will go up. Fewer borrowers will fall behind on their payments next year, thanks to the strengthening economy and refinancings. The share of delinquent borrowers is already down more than a quarter from the peak a couple of years ago. But many borrowers who fell behind on their payments during the housing crisis are still in limbo: last year's robo-signing controversy threw a wrench in the gears of the foreclosure process. That means that some delinquent loans haven't yet entered the foreclosure process, and even fewer moved all the way through foreclosure -- especially in Florida and other states where foreclosures require a longer legal process. Once a settlement is reached with banks over robo-signing in those states, we'll see a new wave of foreclosures and foreclosure sales that's long overdue. It's a necessary step in getting the housing market back to normal even though it will be painful for people who lose their homes -- and will rattle American's confidence in the housing recovery.
- Austin, TX, and Houston, TX. The bloom's not off the yellow rose of Texas. Steady job growth and a construction revival make Austin and Houston two of my five cities to watch. Texas isn't hung over from the housing boom like the other big states of the South and West, so there's little to hold back growth. Honorable mention to Fort Worth and San Antonio.
- San Jose, CA. Wasn't California at the center of the foreclosure crisis? Didn't prices there fall more than everywhere else in the country? Yup. But there's no such thing as the California housing market: California is almost as diverse as the U.S. Even though prices plummeted and foreclosures skyrocketed in inland California, the coast is another world. San Jose's perennially tight housing market makes it faster to bounce back. The San Jose market -- which includes most of Silicon Valley -- has rapid job growth and the lowest vacancy rate in the country.
- Suburbs of Boston, MA. This Cambridge-Newton-Framingham market just west of Boston has a strong jobs engine and, like most of New England, missed the worst of the housing bubble. Honorable mention goes to Worcester, one step further west, and Boston's northern suburbs around Peabody. These areas all benefit from offering more bang for the buck than crowded, expensive Boston: this is because most people looking to move are searching in more suburban or smaller areas than where they live now.
- Rochester, NY. That's my hometown, and knowing what's happened to Kodak and other pillars of the local economy, I was surprised when Rochester scored on the top 5 list. (I applied the same formula to all cities and did not have my thumb on the scale.) Prices -- which fell little during the boom -- are stable, and the economy has weathered blow after blow and is expanding.
- Jobs Report Bodes Well for Housing
- Asking What Our Country Can Do For Housing
- Where Construction Activity is Rumbling
- The Federal Government's Re-Fi Plan: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
- Renting Out Government-Owned Homes is the Right Move - But Probably Wouldn't Make Any Difference to You
- Where Vacancies are High