How strong is the housing recovery?

Existing-home sales rise in November, and prices move up, too. But one expert wonders if the housing bust will make many would-be buyers wary of the risks.

By Charley Blaine Dec 21, 2012 10:05AM
For sale © Phillip Spears/Digital Vision/Getty ImagesThe housing market looks like it is recovering. Honest.

There's lots of evidence. Existing-home sales in November rose 5.9% from October to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.04 million, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday. It's the first time the sales rate has topped 5 million since November 2009.

The sales rate was also up 14.5% from a year ago. And it appears that more existing homes have been sold through November than in all of 2011.

Not everyone agrees housing markets are really recovering, however. Yale economist Robert Shiller thinks the recovery may flame out in the next few months.

The Realtors' report says sales and prices were higher across the country. There might have been a small effect from Hurricane Sandy. Sales in the Northeast that might have closed in October were pushed into November. Sales in the region fell in September and October but rebounded in November.

The Southern region -- which stretches from Delaware and Maryland to Oklahoma and Texas -- showed the biggest gains, up 7.9% in November from October. Gains were weakest in the West.

The median price of a home was $180,600 in November, up 10.1% from a year ago. Prices were flat in the Northeast but up sizably elsewhere.
The existing-home sales report is the latest in a series of reports that suggest a housing  recovery has started.

New-home sales in October were flat from September but up 17.2% from a year earlier. Housing starts for November were down 3% from October but up 21.6% from a year earlier. Building permits in November were up 3.6% in November from October and up 26.8% from November 2011.

Multi-family permits were up 10.4% in November from October and up nearly 31% from a year ago. Single-family permits were down slightly from October but up 25.3% from a year ago.

The year-over-year gains have cheered big publicly traded builders like Hovnanian (HOV), which see the recovery gaining more strength in 2013. KB Home (KBH), which reported a 20% revenue increase in its fiscal-fourth quarter, said buyers were in interested in "larger homes with more design options," which resulted in higher average selling prices.

Which brings us to Shiller, who told CNBC on Wednesday that he doesn't see a big boom in housing forming. He worries, in fact, there may be more weakness ahead. A big issue is whether someone will want to buy the house you just bought in, say, two or three years.

One reason, he said, was that the bursting of the housing bubble was so great that it may change buying behavior. Many would-be buyers may opt to rent rather than own until they're confident the housing market is at least stable. At best, he sees sales and prices increasing modestly over the next few years.

He's probably right. Home price increases are not guaranteed. They can go down. The Phoenix area saw median prices fall 50% after the bubble burst.

Moreover, history suggests -- particularly the history of home prices after a slump in the early 1980s -- that prices may rise after a bottom is reached but far more gradually than what was seen in, say, 2005 and 2006.

There are some new risks to home ownership. One is if the home mortgage deduction will survive as the government struggles to bring deficits down.

At the same time, lower interest rates means home buyers will have lower interest costs to deduct. And that could limit a homeowner's ability to itemize deductions on income taxes.

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35Comments
Dec 21, 2012 1:55PM
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In my area, they announced housing was up 12% in October.  Today it was announced that housing was down 18% in November.  I'm going to announce today in December, that for the most part, the economic recovery has been nothing more than smoke and mirrors.  I keep hoping that one of these days someone will tell us the truth about the state of our economy, but with the news services and media reporters we have......never mind.
Dec 21, 2012 6:51PM
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Anybody who buys a house now is an idiot.  When the economy fails in the next few years, the Clinton, Frank, Dodd-induced housing collapse will look like a picnic.

Liberals.  God love em!  LOL!
Dec 21, 2012 8:20PM
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What great news...! lol

Have two foreclosed houses empty for over a year on our street...

and two more that have been up for rent for several months...

So much for his old... hope and change BS ...along with his new forward BS..

Dec 23, 2012 10:41PM
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Nonsense. We have 2-million home-renters whose mortgages remain underwater. Nothing has been done to fix this. Notthing has changed. These suckers still keep making house payments, and the banks offer nothing more than foreclosure, bankruptcy, total and complete annihilation of their credit rating if they don't pay and keep paying -- and that's it. And the government does nothing but give our money away to the banks. And the cost of everything associated with home-renting goes up. Total and complete scam.
Dec 24, 2012 2:00AM
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Been working construction for over 25yrs and all i can say is What Recovery?!
Dec 21, 2012 8:06PM
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I am renting now and it sucks. I have freak n big foot and big top wrestling above me. If I want to rent a nice home that is not a piece its $ 1500.00

I am being forced to buy if I don't want to live in a real Hole. What to do is the question?

Dec 24, 2012 12:55AM
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We plan on leaving the country and let you liberals have it.  Enjoy you miserable ride with the O'bummer.  We are going where the leader of the country is a conservative.
Dec 23, 2012 10:58PM
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Inflation is here. Food prices are skyrocketing, and only just warming up. Hyper inflation is coming. The home mortgage deduction is going to be a casualty of the Fiscal Cliff. The bond markets are going to call an end to the FED money printing in the next couple of years. When that happens, the market is going to crash.The value of the dollar will plummet. The value of homes will drop by two-thirds -- if you are lucky. If you buy, buy a working farm. If you can't do that then buy something with no less than 10-acres around it. Get some solar panels and some solar water heating going. Dig a well. Buy some chickens.

Dec 23, 2012 10:42PM
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The so called "Fiscal Cliff" was not mention in this article or any of the news reels here.  The housing market in areas like Washington DC and government military installation plus major government contracts could be in big time trouble with these massive budget cuts. That will directly effect the housing market in those areas.
Dec 24, 2012 7:51AM
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Well I have two foreclosures on my street for over a year now...

And there are two rental house that have been vacant for months...?

Guess bottom line is Americans need jobs to earn money to buy stuff...

But don't worry, oblamo has his Laser Beam for jobs project..?  lol

Dec 24, 2012 3:29AM
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Millions of well employed, financially sound Americans would love to buy a house today. But they bought into the GOP lead housing pyramid scam and lost all their savings and credit when they foreclosed on their homes. It takes about 7 years or longer to fully recover from this type of economic collapse in our credit driven markets of today. We can't turn back the clock and repair the damage done by deregulation of the banks, we can only learn from the Republicans mistake.
Dec 22, 2012 12:17PM
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BoBSTER 99;I just tell the truth.The DOW is up 60% with Obama.You get your lies from

Rush.

Dec 23, 2012 11:47PM
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Go Obama.  Keep doing what your doing and let these supposedly positive thinking Republican doomdayers keep living in their bunkers and buying their guns till they go bust.  It's these Republican and Tea Party government haters who are losing their marbles and wanting to take this Country into the dumps. Once we go over the fiscal curb and get some real legislation passing we can get this Country moving FORWARD again like back when Clinton was President instead of back to the dark ages where Bush and Grover the Rover wanted to take us.
Dec 21, 2012 12:13PM
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I`m glad houses are priced at resonable rates after being overpriced a few years ago.Thanks

to the market being up 60% with Obama, I`m looking at buying a20,000 square ft.

house in Scottsdale.These are the good old days.

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