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September 17, 2012
Will the Housing Market Recovery Leave the Hardest-Hit Neighborhoods Behind?
The national news about residential real estate has been rosy. The latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau and HUD find that sales of new single-family houses in July 2012 were up 3.6 percent over the June rate, and 25.3 percent above July 2011 numbers. The National Association of Realtors reported that existing-home sales grew 2.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.47 million in July from 4.37 million in June and are 10.4 percent above the July 2011 pace. The June S&P/Case-Shiller report on housing prices showed positive monthly gains across all markets in its 20-city composite for the second month in a row.
However, a large number of homes remain in the foreclosure pipeline and many of these properties are concentrated in certain neighborhoods, which is a particular challenge for recovery in these areas because research suggests that concentrated mortgage delinquency and foreclosure can depress housing prices (see discussions here, here, and here).
To examine this issue and the barriers to recovery in areas heavily affected by foreclosure, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's Community and Economic Development (CED) group conducted a poll to explore housing market conditions in the Southeast. We asked Neighborhood Stabilization Program administrators, HUD-approved housing counselors, and real estate brokers across the Sixth Federal Reserve District about price expectations and changes in supply and demand in the housing market. The poll was administered between August 7 and August 24. We received 224 responses to the poll and conducted an additional 23 interviews, all within the Sixth District, which includes all of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, and parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The overall response rate to the poll was 30 percent (individual state response rates varied from 22 percent (Georgia) to 52 percent (Tennessee).
When we asked about their house price expectations over the next year (see the chart), we saw signs of bifurcation, with more than half (54 percent) expecting the overall jurisdiction to experience gains, but nearly half (48 percent) expecting the hardest-hit areas in those jurisdictions to continue to see price declines. (For our purposes, "hardest-hit areas" are defined as the top 10 neighborhoods in the area that had the most foreclosures. Also the differences across all parameters—price, inventory of homes for sale, and interest in home buying—between overall jurisdiction and the hard-hit areas are statistically significant.)
The differences between the overall jurisdiction and the hard-hit areas are less pronounced, though still present, when we asked respondents about changes in home buying interest and the number of homes for sale in the last six months (see the chart). Reflecting on the overall jurisdiction, 67 percent said that interest in home buying increased, and of those only 14 percent said it was a significant increase. Another 17 percent experienced decreased home-buying interest.
The "home-buying enthusiasm" found in overall jurisdictions is not as robust when respondents talked about hardest-hit neighborhoods. Although 46 percent mention that the interest in home buying in these areas has increased, it was offset by the 29 percent who noted a decrease in interest in home buying in these areas.
On the other hand, the inventory of homes for sale in the overall jurisdiction has increased in the last six months, according to 57 percent of the respondents (see the chart). (Of these respondents, 45 percent said the inventory increased modestly.) When referring to hardest-hit areas, almost half said that the number of homes for sale had increased in the last six months, 26 percent said it had remained the same, and 27 percent said the number had decreased. And while the trends in the overall jurisdiction and the hard-hit areas may not be wildly divergent in terms of the for-sale inventory, the causes may be different. In the overall jurisdiction, homeowners may be putting their homes on the market because they feel better about the potential returns, whereas it seems reasonable to suggest that in hard-hit areas the increase in inventory of homes for sale may reflect a continued foreclosure pipeline.
We then asked about the top barriers to house-price stabilization and recovery in the areas hardest hit by foreclosure. According to our respondents, the most significant barrier is the poor credit scores and financial history of people wanting to purchase homes in these areas (see the table). With tightened lending standards, fewer people are able to secure financing to buy homes. The next two barriers concern the continued flow of foreclosure starts in these areas. In these cases, the respondents suggest that foreclosures are initiated either because people owe more on their homes than they are worth or because of recent unemployment or underemployment of borrowers decreasing the ability to repay. Respondents also noted that low appraisals in hard-hit areas have undermined sales. Finally, the high concentration of vacant properties, likely perpetuated by the higher-ranked barriers identified in the poll, presents an image of disinvestment in the areas, making it difficult to attract new buyers.
It's important to recognize that even among hard-hit areas there are notable variations and expectations for the future. For example, responses to house price expectations in Florida's hard-hit areas were much more optimistic, with 36 percent expecting increases in the next year, compared to Georgia's hard-hit areas, where only 3 percent anticipated prices going up. Of course, there are metro areas where this "micro-recovery thesis," as Nick Timiraos of the Wall Street Journal puts it, is not at play. "Denver and Phoenix are experiencing price increases in almost every ZIP code," he notes. (A previous macroblog post provides another look at ZIP code–level house price analysis.)
By Karen Leone de Nie, research manager in the Atlanta Fed's Community and Economic Development (CED) department,
Myriam Quispe-Agnoli, an Atlanta Fed research economist and adviser to the CED research and policy team
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