Speaking before a packed house at the California Association of Realtors Expo 2008 in Long Beach, Calif., Wednesday, chief economist Leslie Appleton-Young seemed a bit uneasy as she delivered her 2009 California Housing Market Forecast.
“I bet everybody wants to know what’s going to happen next year. Me too!,” Appleton-Young told an anxious crowd of Realtors. “There are so many wild cards out there. It’s a full deck. They’re things we don’t have control over.”
Economics is not an exact science, so it is no surprise that practitioners will many times hedge their bet, and even revise their projections mid-year to stay in pace with changes as they occur. Many economists will even qualify their presentations by adding something like, “…unless some unknown monumental event occurs to change everything.”
Can you really blame them?
So far, 2008 has been the year of monumental events, beginning with the bailout of Bear Stearns, followed by the Lehman Bros. bankruptcy, Merrill Lynch selling to Bank of America, the federal government buying into the secondary market with the changes at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and a number of banks either going out of business, or merging with other banks. Plus, let’s not forget a $700 billion stimulus package by the federal government aimed mostly at helping out troubled financial institutions to get banks lending money once again.
“It is really history in the making,” Appleton-Young said.
Given all those factors, and the uncertainty left in the marketplace, it was no doubt difficult to come up with a forecast for 2009, but Appleton-Young and her staff at CAR did a very admirable, and thorough, job of it. Based on the historic data she presented, it appears as if California is set to come out the other side in pretty good shape, probably by the second half of 2009 if no other major events change the nation’s — and the state’s — financial landscape.
The 2009 forecast calls for a further decline in home prices, down 6 percent for the year following a 32 percent decline this year. Existing home sales are projected to increase next year by 12.5 percent, a slight uptick from the 12 percent increase estimated for all of 2008, and a big improvement over the 26 percent decline seen in 2007, the market’s low point.
“Price behavior has been unprecedented,” Appleton-Young said. “Never before have we seen it go down so far so quickly. This is the third anniversary of seeing sales below where they were a year ago.”
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Appleton-Young noted that happy days were not here again for Realtors. Still, her prediction is overall upbeat, calling for the national economy to be at its weakest point during the next three quarters, with a turnaround during the second half of 2009.
Of particular interest to real estate investors is the high correlation between median prices and defaults. During her presentation, Appleton-Young noted that California currently has two distinct real estate markets — the REO market and the normal market. Because of that trend, it is a mistake to paint the state with a broad brush, she noted.
The median price discount was up in 2008, and so was the median number of weeks on the market. Correspondingly, net cash to sellers was down substantially, back to 2001 levels. As a result, she projected that the number of first-time home buyers entering the market will increase over the next couple of years, with everybody looking for a deal, along with favorable financing from FHA and the VA.
Even though she is projecting higher unemployment next year, Appleton-Young said she expects to see a lower number of foreclosures in California in 2009, although the number will still be significant.
The national economy in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will be weak (recession-like), with an improved outlook during the third and fourth quarters. And inflation will still be a problem.
The biggest market opportunities next year for real estate agents, Appleton-Young said, will be working with qualified first-time home buyers, and working DISTRESSED SALES, so long as they know the process and procedures involved.
What do you think? Are CAR’s projections too optimistic, too pessimistic, or just right?