My Triangle real estate market indicator

dbarkin@newsobserver.comApril 2, 2014 

The way I gauge the real estate market is a certain house near the entrance to my subdivision that has been sitting empty.

It was in foreclosure, and for a long time, there was no evidence of efforts to sell it. In recent months, some work has been done. The garage door was fixed. The yard was landscaped. Finally, a for-sale sign went up.

When there are bikes in the driveway and a mom in the front yard weeding flower beds, I will have a sign that maybe our real estate bad dream is over.

The news is encouraging. Prices are moving up. In Raleigh, according to CoreLogic, home prices increased 7.5 percent in February over a year ago, including distressed sales. In Durham-Chapel-Hill, that figure was 9.2 percent. Nationally, home prices increased 12.2 percent.

I can now look at my house on Zillow without getting irritated. I was raised like most Boomers to believe that real estate was supposed to go up.

But the price gains around the country reflect that we are coming off a low base. The peak, nationally, was in April 2006, and then the bottom fell out. Home prices are 16.9 percent below that peak, in the aggregate. But in some Sun Belt states, 2006 buyers are still a ways from break even, the ones who hadn’t mailed their keys back to the bank. Florida prices are down 36.4 percent, according to CoreLogic. Arizona, down 30.5 percent. Nevada is the king of the busted bubbles, down 39.9 percent. I remember all the stories written in the middle of the last decade about the boom town that Las Vegas was becoming.

It was a sucker bet for Vegas home buyers.

We never had the explosive runup in prices here, but we suffered enough when real estate cratered, and I get reminded of that every time I drive in and out of my subdivision and look at a certain house.

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