“It’s The Housing, Stupid.” What I hope someone writes on a wall somewhere in the White House.

Now that there is a pay wall at the Dallas Morning News — I do subscribe — I will try and give you a weekly re-cap of real estate news and a look/see at what our local market is doing. Let’s call it Good News/Bad News. Because, as we all know, just because the sky is falling in Maryland, it may not be here in Dallas. Here’s a piece I wrote on AOL, eager to show the world that housing is not blanket-ly bad. Because if you read the headlines Monday, you may have wanted to go back in bed and pull up the covers for another five years. Yahoo News: “Home Sales Tumble”. The National Association of Realtors says home sales tumbled 9.6 % and are at a 9 year low, which I guess is better than a ten year low.

“The housing market is still very depressed and a major drag on the economy, especially household net worth,” said Chris Christopher, a senior economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts.

Economists had expected a decline of only 4 percent, but 9.6 was greater than even the most pessimistic forecast in a Reuters survey of 53 economists. And it is making Dr. Doom  Bob Shiller almost look like an oracle.

And what good will an improving labor market be if plunging house prices keep upsetting economic stabilization?

Someone sure needs to plaster this sign at the next convention, Democratic and Republican: “It’s The Housing, Stupid.”

Thanks to continued downward pressure from foreclosures, NAR said the median national home price dropped 5.2 percent in February from a year earlier to $156,100, the lowest since April 2002.

“If the price declines persist, even with the job market recovery, that could hamper recovery in the housing market,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s trade group’s chief economist.

And that ticks me off because average homes sales actually increased over the last six months in five major Texas metropolitan markets — Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth — according to the Federal Reserve. I don’t care how much it bites elsewhere, there are signs of life in the Lone Star state that keep getting beaten down by the national doom drum.

Good news: that rise in Texas home sales comes for the first time since the expiration of the home buyer tax credit. And more good news: looking at January numbers, Texas home inventory is down, says the Federal Reserve. Back in December, it would have taken eight months to sell off all the inventory in the state. In January, that time frame fell to 7.7 percent. Experts say 6 months is a normal market and it looks like Texas real estate is inching closer and closer to normal.

As for foreclosures, it almost seems like they’ve taken a vacation in some Texas markets. Foreclosure filings in Dallas/Fort Worth were down 16 percent for April — foreclosure filings have to be posted a month ahead, so April’s numbers are now out. For the first few months of 2011, Dallas foreclosure filings are 4 percent lower than this time, last year. And that is significant because last year we were still euphoric on the first time home buyer’s credit.  Foreclosure filings were also down 20 percent in Collin County, and an area hit hard by foreclosures.

But George Roddy isn’t calling it Miller Time just yet. What still plagues is the high number of troubled loans across the state, and fallout from the foreclosure crisis is going to take a long time to wade through. More jobs would be the biggest help of all.

“Until a significant number of workers are absorbed back into the workforce,” says Roddy, ” we won’t see foreclosure postings decline.”

Bad news: the number of upside-down homes is up. Even though foreclosure postings are down, we are seeing a sharp increase in the percentage of residential postings in an upside-down position. The percentage of foreclosure postings on upside-down homes jumped 29 percent. A year ago April, only 21 percent of Dallas area homes were upside down.

You know what that means: The original mortgage amount exceeds the current value of the property. So the homeowner can not sell the home for what is owed on the mortgage and often, neither can the bank left toting the note.

Good news (kind of): CoreLogic recently estimated that 12 percent of Dallas homeowners owe more than their mortgages are worth. That is about half the nationwide rates of negative equity, and can be attributed to Texas law which limits how much a homeowner can borrow against their home. Me, I was perfectly happy when we couldn’t borrow squat against our homes.

Finally, I wonder when this administration is going to make some positive noises about home ownership. Isn’t it interesting that one of the hottest markets in the country is D.C?

I’m just going to say it: is this administration trying to KILL OFF the U.S. housing market?

By now, if you are in the real estate business, you are thinking about serious drinking. Save the calories if you live in Dallas: we did OK. Not great, but OK. The S&P/Case-Shiller report says overall, the nation’s home prices spiraled downward at the end of 2010, even as the rest of the economy gained steam.

National home prices fell 4.1% during the last three months of 2010, compared with 12 months earlier. They were down 1.9% compared with three months earlier.

“Despite improvements in the overall economy, housing continues to drift lower and weaker,” said David Blitzer, spokesman for S&P.

And things may get a lot worse, said Robert Shiller, a Yale economist and half of the Case-Shiller team, in a telephone/web conference after the report’s release.

“There’s a substantial risk of home prices falling another 15%, 20% or 25% more,” he said.

Good Lord, did he say 25% more?

Shiller is referring to talk out of Washington about the government limiting and reducing its presence in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the GSEs that guarantee about three-fourths of the loaning going on right now. Add in that talk of saying goodbye to the mortgage interest deduction — all this threatens home values. Private mortgage money will have to cover most home loans and banks don’t lend money to be nice, they do it to make money. Lending costs will increase which will further hurt home prices.

I know we need to ease out of the GSEs, but baby steps!

So should you buy or wait? I honestly think it’s six to one-half dozen: prices may fall further, but borrowing costs and interest rates could more than make up the difference. If you’re a cash buyer, this is your year.

But Dallas, God bless Dallas. Dallas was listed as one  of six cities that showed an improvement in annual growth rates in December as opposed to November, 2010. And we stayed above our price lows from February 2009. How can we ever forget that was the month when everything cratered!

Problem is, even our treading water here, which is great, is going to be splashed over by all the negative national news.  Just keep thinking those positive thoughts, pray that the Middle East calms down and the price of oil doesn’t sky-rocket.

Like the builder I was with today said, this spring market has got to be good! Of course, high oil prices sometimes benefit Texas.

I’m off to church!

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Good morning.

At 9am EST today, S&P Indices released the year-end results of the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices. Data through December 2010 reveals the following:

  • The U.S. National Home Price Index declined by 3.9% during the fourth quarter of 2010.
  • The National Index is down 4.1% versus the fourth quarter of 2009, the lowest annual growth rate since the third quarter of 2009 when prices were falling at an 8.6% annual rate.
  • 18 of the 20 MSAs covered by S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices and both monthly composites were down compared to December 2009.
  • San Diego and Washington DC as the only two cities where home prices are increasing on a year-over-year basis
  • The 10-City and 20-City Composites were down 0.9% and 1.0%, respectively, from their November levels. They are now only 3.9% and 2.3% above their April 2009 trough. Back in July 2010, they were +7.9% and +6.9% above the troughs, respectively.

The complete press release, as well as the historical data files, is attached to this email. Also attached are the details to today’s 10am teleconference on U.S. home prices featuring presentations by Professor Robert Shiller and Doctor David Blitzer. A Q&A session follows the call.

Declining home prices

Percentage change in home prices in December 2010 compared to year earlier in each market.

Atlanta …………… -8.0%

Boston …………… -0.8%

Charlotte ………… -4.4%

Chicago …………. -7.4%

Cleveland ..……… -4.0%

Dallas ……………. -3.6%

Denver …………… -2.4%

Detroit ……………. -9.1%

Las Vegas ……….. -4.7%

Los Angeles ……… 0.2%

Miami …………….. -3.7%

Minneapolis ……… -5.3%

New York ………… -2.3%

Phoenix …………… -8.3%

Portland …………… -7.8%

San Diego …………. 1.7%

San Francisco …….. -0.4%

Seattle ……………… -6.0%

Tampa ……………… -6.2%

Washington ………… 4.1%

Composite-20 city …. -2.4%

Source: Standard & Poor’s and Fiserv