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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Boom May Be Spilling Over To More Affordable Housing Markets

by Broderick Perkins Realty Times


Estacada, an isolated community of 2,500 residents, 25 miles southeast of the booming Portland real estate market, is on tap to build 450 homes this year with another 1,000 lots likely to be approved in the next few years.

In West Virginia, home sales soared 21.7 percent in mid year, in part, because home prices in some West Virginian cities were nearly half the national average and that attracted spill over demand from the Washington, D.C. area, one of the nation's hottest housing markets.
For most of 2005, home price appreciation in sleepy Yuma, AZ grew faster than any other city monitored by the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight's (OFHEO). Farm workers and others moving away from the expensive Southern California and Las Vegas area markets came to cash in on affordable housing.

Old housing market bubbles don't die, they just spill over into adjacent markets. As home prices and sales in many large booming real estate markets flatten, there's growing evidence that much of the housing market boom is alive and well. Only the locations are changing. Baby boomers feathering retirement nests, boomers' kids, migrating immigrants and speculators looking for greater returns on their investments are on the leading edge of what could be a geographical shift in the housing boom.

McGraw-Hill Construction and Deloitte & Touche's USA Homebuilding Survey says a "moderate slowdown in certain regions of the U.S. housing market" appears more likely than a bust because even with recent mortgage interest rate increases, rates remain relatively low, at about half what they were in previous housing booms. Questioning home builders to examine their strategies to make a profit in the coming "slow down" the survey revealed an underlying theme -- communities that don't always make front page real estate news.

Demand from the population of baby boomers -- the leading edge of which reaches the age of 60 this year -- has already shaped the first and second housing markets and are expected to increase the demand for homes in retirement and age-restricted communities. Younger boomers are moving up to larger, pricier homes and they continue to buy second homes as getaways and vacation spots. Their kids, just entering the housing market, will add to the demand.

But with hot housing markets in the popular areas of California, Florida, the Northwest and Northeast persistently deemed over priced, investors are already fleeing and rank and file home buyers are likely to follow. Boston-based think tank the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth found that one third of the state's boomers intend to retire out of state. The study said aging baby boomers are discouraged from staying in the state because they want to live somewhere affordable, to pay low taxes, to be near family and friends and to avoid crowded, stressful locales.

With Massachusetts' baby boomer incomes higher than many other regions of the nation, the state's boomers likely echoed the thoughts of other boomers when 47 percent of them said they expect to only have enough money to cover basic living expenses or less. The full cost of housing, most families' greatest expense, has simply grown too much for many in too many boom towns. Immigrants who often earn less, have the same housing-cost concerns and have long been unable to afford their own home in booming resort towns where they work, including the Denver area, Lake Tahoe and California markets.

When Yuma, AZ first became the market with the nation's fastest growing home prices -- 35.98 in the second quarter of 2005, according to OFHEO -- investors played a large part in boosting values. By the third quarter, with prices soaring "only" 35.l7 percent, the investors had pulled up stakes, but the other half of the price-boosting equation remained. Emigrating agricultural workers fleeing higher priced housing costs in California and elsewhere in Arizona, continued after Yuma's $200,000 homes -- 1,500- to 1,700-square-foot, three- to four-bedroom houses only a few years old. "The unanticipated rise in immigration levels, coupled with a trend for immigrants to purchase homes sooner upon relocation to the U.S. is continuing to fuel new home demand," the U.S. Homebuilder Survey found.

Likewise, economists credited spill over from California, Nevada and Arizona in early 2005 for boosted Utah's home price appreciation ranking from dead last during the first quarter of 2004 to 35th on OFHEO charts in the first quarter of 2005 as other inland western regions including Idaho and Montana experienced similar sudden growth in home prices.

For better or for worse and for the long or the short term, natural disasters are also playing a role in the market shift. It's not certain how investors moving West from the Florida panhandle into the less expensive coasts of Alabama and Mississippi will fare now after devastating storms, but many cities north, east and west of the Gulf Coast region boomed overnight with both speculators and displaced residents putting down stakes elsewhere. The storms' impact sent a ripple through housing markets previously considered more affordable as the National Multi Housing Council late last year said 11 percent of rental property owners indicated occupancy was up substantially in their markets -- states with communities hammered by the storms. Thirty percent noted apartment occupancy was up "somewhat" after the storms. Published: January 13, 2006


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