There’s good news and bad news in real estate these days, but if you’re in the immediate area around Washington, the news is mostly good.
The Case-Shiller Index, published by Standard & Poor’s and considered the most accurate report of home values both across the country and within 20 major metropolitan regions, showed Washington to be the strongest market in the U.S., with values increasing 3 percent from March to April and up 4 percent from April of last year. And, while values nationwide are down nearly 4 percent compared to April of last year, they were up from March .7 percent.
Thirteen of the 20 city areas tracked increased in value from last year (compared to only one — Washington — that had increased values as of the last report in December), but six areas showed the lowest values in four years, including Chicago, Miami, Tampa, Detroit, Las Vegas and Charlotte, N.C.
What does all this mean? It’s clearly a difficult fortune to read for the country as a whole, but as a D.C. Realtor, I can only see an optimistic outlook for our region. The combination here of a high median income, relatively low unemployment and a well-educated population makes for a strong market and will continue to do so in the future.
Also contributing to my rosy outlook on home values is the local data regarding the inventory of available housing, specifically the lack thereof. Delta Associates, an Alexandria firm that tracks new condominium inventory and new construction, reported that the inventory of upcoming and available new condominiums is only 3,629 units for the entire region, which is down from nearly 20,000 in 2007.
This drop of more than 80 percent has had, and will continue to have, a major impact on prices, as the simple laws of supply and demand dictate. To wit, while new condo prices for the metro-D.C. region dipped 2.4 percent since last year, Washington and Montgomery County saw increases of 1.8 and .8 percent, respectively. Inventory of resale housing is generally extremely low as well, to the bane of agents and buyers alike. In fact, I have personally had to negotiate multiple-offer situations in three of my last four transactions due to the low supply of and high demand for quality product.
One bit of bad news for all of us Washingtonians is the upcoming reduction in the loan limits that will be backed by the federal government. Since 2008, we have benefited from a temporary loan limit increase to $729,750 for loans that are guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). In October, if Congress does not act to stop it, the limit will drop back to $625,500.
Many buyers, sellers and lenders are scrambling to act before the limit drops and many are fearful that due to the high cost of housing in the area, the limit decreases will have profound effects, especially on upper-end purchases. My hunch, however, is that it will impact only those purchases for which the extra $100,000 or so would have helped to get the loan to begin with. Purchases costing a million or more would require more than 25 percent down to get a government-backed loan, which is more than enough to qualify buyers for non-conforming (as in non-government-backed) loans with great rates anyway.
It’s only going to be the properties priced between $650,000 and $755,000 (roughly the loan limit plus the lowest downpayment possible of 3.5 percent) that will suffer and only those may have problems selling if the buyers available literally have no more than the very lowest downpayment required. That said, if you are a buyer in that price range and wish to put down a low downpayment, or if you’re a seller with a house in that range, you may wish to list before those limits take effect to ensure you have the most options, whether it’s options for houses you could afford or buyers who could afford your house.
To put a bit of icing on this bittersweet cake, I am pleased to report that interest rates continue to rest at truly unbelievable values, with 30-year fixed rates as low as 4 percent with no points (for a superconforming loan, nonetheless!) in the past month.
My clients are thrilled at the rates they’ve been offered recently, and when rates stay low, property values stay high. There are also a number of new loan programs available that offer even lower rates (some in the high twos) with a moderate level of risk with so-called “5/5 ARMs,” or adjustable rate mortgages that have reasonable increase limits, lifetime caps and only change once every five years, eliminating some anxiety about a yearly hike.
All in all, it’s great to be a Washingtonian these days, and not just for the amazing view of fireworks on the fourth of July.
David Bediz is a Realtor at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage and a Principal of the Dwight and David Real Estate Group. He can be reached at 202-352-8456 or through DwightandDavid.com.