In recent months, Seattle home prices have been proclaimed as heading up again. The most recent Case Schiller Index had the Seattle median sale price increasing by 1.8% from May to June which is good news for beleaguered homeowners and potentially forcing sit-on-the-fence buyers to jump off said fence. However, the same Case Schiller Index reported that prices had increased by 1.8% year over year between June 2011 and 2012. So if prices went up 1.8% from May to June of this year and only 1.8% for the past 12 months…then is the market really going up or just bouncing sideways?
Human nature is to embrace the positive and want prices to go up. Plenty of people are happy to hype the smallest of increases (see newspapers and real estate organizations) and gloss over downward trends. Disclaimer: yes, I am a Realtor (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).
Here’s a simplistic brief history of the recent Seattle real estate market (as seen by yours truly). The plot shows the quarterly median sale price of non-distressed Seattle single family homes. Note that the median sale price is the price at which half the homes sold for above that price and half the homes sold for below that price.
During the great pre-2008 Irrational Exuberance era, home prices were flying up and we all delusionally believed that prices would continue to do so for ever (and ever). Then the crash came and home prices headed in the opposite direction. The median price of a Seattle home peaked at a median price of $480,000 in the summer of 2007 and then dropped to a low of $404,000 in April 2009. In my humble opinion, for the greater Seattle area at least, we have been bouncing sideways ever since January 2009. Sure we have seen intermittent increases but they have been followed by prices dropping back down again. The median sale price in January of this year was the same as January 2009.
The two purple lines I’ve added to the above plot are the equivalent to the Support and Resistance prices (lower and upper respectively) that you see in day trading. Only when the price manages to break out above or below this zone can you say that the market is trending either up or down, otherwise the price is just going sideways. Since January 2009, the market has been bouncing between about $400,000 and $440,000. The above graph is based on quarterly data which averages out monthly outliers and I think is a more reliable snapshot of what the market is doing. Inclusion of distressed homes sales does not affect this trend.
So that’s looking at Seattle real estate as a whole which includes a lot of different neighborhoods, some more desirable than others. So what about a hot, multi-offer, gone in a week neighborhood like Ballard? Answer, just the same!
In conclusion, Seattle home prices may be going up in the short term, but we need to wait and see a while longer if this is a real upward trend or will just hit the “resistance price” and head back towards the “support price” again. Foresight (and patience) is a great thing! And yes, I am a party pooper.