Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Natural Cycle of the Real Estate Market
As the real estate market was rising nationally the last few years the media went hog wild over the frenzy and everywhere you looked there was someone or something telling you that real estate was HOT HOT HOT! Prices were going through the roof and there was unprecedented growth and people were becoming multi-millionaires from selling their homes. It was craziness.
Now the “national market” is going through a correction because it has to- there was too much too fast. In many areas prices and inventory levels are decreasing. Is that a good thing? Yes, it is. It’s healthy for each market to go through it’s cycle. This ebb and flow is good and allows each market to grow and then collect itself and catch up, and then eventually grow again.

Often when an area does go through a slowing or correction, the prices do not actually go down, but rather just don’t go up as fast. Usually the decline of a market is actually just a decline in it’s growth rate.

Areas can see rapid appreciation for different reasons. Usually it’s because of either speculatory (investment) buying or a major influx of people in a short amount of time. When an area has too many properties being bought and sold solely for investment purposes, the market values rise quickly, but this can create hollow values, because the values rise faster than the populations ability to afford them.

When an investor buys a home for $200,000, puts $70,000 into remodeling and then sells that home two months later for $400,000, that home gained 100 percent appreciation in two months. No worries. But if that happens to 20% of the homes being sold in an area over a year, and the prices are now growing exponentially while the area wages are staying the same, you have trouble.

Eventually this can catch up to the market when people are no longer able to pay the prices of the homes. The other thing that happens during this time is people begin to notice how much these neighboring homes are being sold for and they want in on the action. When a market heats up and prices begin to rise quickly everybody starts throwing their homes on the market and the market becomes flooded with property.

Eventually when the demand slows, but people are still wanting to sell for more and more, those home-sellers (who are always the last to accept the end of a growth period) will need to adjust for this and the market can correct itself. Historically this has happened through a period of prices staying relatively flat and growth slowing for a period of time until the demand increases again.

When both factors happen at the same time (investors flipping homes and people throwing their homes on the market to get the high prices), and when new homes are built rapidly in the area because of the demand and the construction brings jobs related to that construction it can really make things interesting. Because these jobs are created by, and sustained by, the real estate market.

This is what happened in Vegas between 2001 and 2005- people began to move into the area, then investors starting buying and flipping homes, and then home builders began building homes as fast as humanly possible and they were hiring people to help build all of these homes and to staff the expanding casinos and the market appreciated over 50% in a year. When the market reached the point where the demand was no longer there (everyone had bought a new home?) and all of these builders no longer needed the help and the construction crews needed to sell but couldn’t and the prices had been artificially driven up by the investors, what happened to the market? It’s now in a period of decline.

According to Marc Garrison, founder of The National Association of Real Estate Investors (NAREI), there are four main components of the real estate cycle every area experiences. These are Expansion, Equilibrium, Decline and Absorption. It’s important to note that this cycle not only applies to large geographic areas, but also applies to cities and even neighborhoods.

Expansion brings job growth, population growth and a high demand on the infrastructure of an area. Roads need to be built, restaurants open, hospitals expand and prices rise.
Equilibrium is when things begin to slow and settle. Prices have reached their limits, or beyond, and this period of time brings high prices and as a natural consequence less businesses move into, or expand in, the area. Governments are less likely to offer incentives to businesses to move into the area and job growth slows.

Decline then occurs as the job growth stops and businesses begin to relocate to save money and the demand for housing decreases. During this time, prices become stagnant or even decline as rents and occupancy go down. Usually this decline is merely a slowing of the growth rate, but in markets where the rise was too fast the decline must result in a correction (decline) of prices.
Absorption occurs as the lower prices and occupancy fall below the national averages and/or the area becomes attractive again to businesses looking to relocate. Governments again begin to incentivize business to move into the area and the population begins to grow again.
These four periods of time are all necessary and this is why real estate is so local. One market may be in a period of decline, which pushes another market into expansion.
Just as nature has it’s seasons, real estate markets have a healthy way of transitioning from period to period. Experiencing these transitions and understanding them can give home buyers and sellers not only an understanding around them, but hopefully, more peace while trying to navigate through the moving process.