Job growth helping housing recoveryThe Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Non-Farm Payrolls report for December exceeded Wall Street’s expectations by 5,000 net new jobs, showing 155,000 positions created in December.

The December tally raised the economy’s 12-month total to 1.84 million net new jobs created nationwide. Jobs added in December mark the 27th consecutive month of job growth.

Job sectors showing the strongest growth to close out 2012 included:

  • Health Care
  • Drinking and Eating Establishments
  • Construction
  • Manufacturing

Private-sector hiring is driving the jobs market, too. 168,000 new private sector jobs were added in December. Government jobs fell by thirteen thousand.

Monthly job creation has averaged +153,000 jobs since 12 months ago. It’s a fine measure of growth but economists believe it’s not enough job creation to significantly reduce the national unemployment rate. 14.4 percent of workers are categorized as under-employed.

December’s national unemployment rate was 7.8 percent, representing 4.8 million job seekers. This figure matched Wall Street’s expectations and was equal to November revised unemployment rate of 7.8 percent.

The improving jobs market and national unemployment rate make an impact on both mortgage rates and San Jose home prices.

Job creation suggests an expanding economy, which typically leads mortgage rates higher. In addition, with more employed persons nationwide, the potential home buyer pool grows larger, which introduces new demand to the housing market. With more demand, all things equal, home prices rise.

Job growth is one reason why home values climbed more than 5 percent in 2012, according to the Federal Home Finance Agency; and why the national housing supply would be exhausted in fewer than 5 months, at the current sales pace. Demand for homes is high and today’s low mortgage rates are extending buyer purchasing power in California.

For home buyers, the expanding U.S. economy and steady job growth suggests that home prices may not rocket higher this year, but will continue to increase, little by little.

Revisiting predictions for 2012When the calendar flips to a new year, analysts and economists like to make predictions for the year ahead.

So, today, with the year half-complete, it’s an opportune time to check back to see how the experts’ predictions are faring (so far).

If you’ll remember, when 2011 closed, the housing market was showing its first signs of a reboot. Home sales were strong, home supplies were nearing bull market levels, and buyer activity was strong.

Homebuilder confidence was at its highest point in 2 years and single-family housing starts had made its biggest one-month gain since 2009. 

In addition, 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates had just broke below the 4 percent barrier and looked poised to stay there.

There was a lot about which to be optimistic in January 2012.

Yet, there were obstacles for the economy. The Eurozone’s sovereign debt issues remained in limbo, oil prices were spiking, and the Unemployment Rate remained high — three credible threats to growth.

At the time, analyst predictions for the economy occupied both ends of the spectrum, and everywhere in between.

Freddie Mac said home prices would rise in 2012, for example, whereas analysts at CBS News said they’d fall. Both made good arguments.

As another example, American Banker said mortgage rates would rise in 2012. The LA Times, however, said just the opposite. And, the problem with these predictions is that each party can make such a sound defense of their respective positions that it’s easy to forget that a prediction is really just an opinion.

Nobody can know what the future holds.

A lot has changed since those predictions were made :

  • Job growth slowed sharply after a strong Q1 2012 
  • Oil costs dropped rapidly beginning in early-May
  • Spain and Italy have joined Greece as potential sovereign debt trouble-zones

Now, none of this was known — or expected — at the start of the year yet each has made a material change in the direction of both the housing and mortgage markets.

Today, home prices remain low and 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates now average 3.56% nationwide. Home affordability is higher than it’s been at any time in recorded history and, at least for now, low downpayment mortgage products remain readily available.

The experts never saw it coming.

6 months from now, the markets may be different. We can’t know for sure. All we can know is that today is great time to be a home buyer in San Jose. Home prices and mortgage rates are favorable.

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Case-Shiller Home Value Changes

Recent data suggests that the U.S. housing market is in recovery. However, the data also shows this to be an uneven recovery.

According to the monthly S&P/Case-Shiller Index, for example, home values rose in three of 20 tracked markets between December 2011 and January 2012. 17 tracked markets showed home prices still in decline.

It’s easy to point to the Case-Shiller Index as evidence that the housing market in California has yet to bottom, but we have to consider the Case-Shiller Index’s shortcomings — specifically in a recovering economy.

For example, the Case-Shiller Index is based on changes in home prices of a single home, through successive sales. This means that to calculate its home price index, the Case-Shiller searches for sales of the same home over a period of time and calculates the difference in contract price. 

This methodology can distort the home price tracker downward during times of weak economy because there is no distinction made for homes sold in foreclosure or as a short sale.

35% of all homes sold in January were “distressed”, says the National Association of REALTORS®.

Another distortion in the Case-Shiller Index is that the model neglects all home types that are not of type “single-family residence”. This means that multi-unit homes and condominiums are excluded from the Case-Shiller Index model.

In some markets, such as Chicago and New York City, condominiums account for a large percentage of overall sales. 

Lastly, the Case-Shiller Index is published with a “lag”, which renders it useless to buyers and sellers of San Jose in search of real-time, relevant data. The most recent Case-Shiller Index is published with a 60-day delay, and accounts for home purchase contracts written between October and December 2011.

Since October, the U.S. economy has added more than 1 million jobs and the economy has moved into “moderate expansion”, according to the Federal Reserve. Data that’s two seasons old does little to help us today.

Making sound real estate decisions is about having timely, relevant data at-hand when it’s needed. The Case-Shiller Index fails in that respect. It’s good for highlighting the U.S. housing market on the whole, as it existed in the past. For real-time market data, though, you’ll want to talk with an active real estate agent.

Pending Home Sales IndexThe housing market took a step back in February, but remains near post-recession highs.

According to data from the National Association of REALTORS®, February’s Pending Home Sales Index slipped 0.5 percent from the month prior, to 96.5.

The Pending Home Sales Index is a monthly report which measures the number of homes under contract to sell, but not yet sold, nationwide.

The index is benchmarked to a value of 100, the average level of home contract activity in 2001, the first year that pending home sales data was analyzed. It also happened to be a year of historically-high levels of home contract activity. Therefore, a Pending Home Sales Index reading of 100 suggests a strong housing market nationwide.

The index has read north of 90 since October 2011.

On a regional basis, February’s Pending Home Sales Index varied :

  • Northeast Region: -0.5 percent from January 2012
  • Midwest Region : +5.7 percent from January 2012
  • South Region : -3.3 percent from January 2012
  • West Region : -2.6 percent from January 2012

Mild weather may have helped the Midwest Region last month but even regional data can only tell us so much. Like everything in real estate, housing data must be local to be relevant.

Throughout the South Region, for example, the area in which contract activity fell most on a monthly basis, there are states which performed better than the regional average, and states which performed worse. Furthermore, even within those states, there are some cities which over-performed, and others which underperformed.

It’s why we can’t put too much stock in national housing news. Buyers don’t buy nationally — they buy locally.

Today’s home buyers and sellers in San Jose , therefore, should look beyond the national Pending Home Sales Index and into local market drivers. The Pending Home Sales Index can paint a broad picture of the U.S. housing market but for data that matters to you specifically, it’s not as widely helpful. 

To get relevant, timely local real estate data, talk to a real estate professional.