Explaining Southern California's economy

Case-Shiller: Los Angeles holds steady with home price gains in August

Existing Homes Sales Jump More Than Forecast

David McNew/Getty Images

Homes in Santa Clarita, California. The August Case-Shiller index shows prices moving back to 2003 levels.

It might be safe to call a housing bottom at this point. The monthly Case-Shiller home prices index has just come out for August, and it shows prices increasing in 19 of the 20 cities the index tracks. 

This is from the release:

The 10- and 20-City Composites recorded annual returns of +1.3% and +2.0% in August 2012 – an improvement over the +0.6% and +1.2% respective annual rates posted for July 2012.

For Los Angeles, the story is much the same as it has been for the entire year so far: slow and steady progress. The August increase exactly matched the July increase, at 1.3 percent. April, May, and June were all higher, but only in May did the city exceed a 2-percent gain.

Although compared with last August (the Case-Shiller data lags by two months, which is why we're getting August numbers in late October), the situation is markedly improved over July. Los Angeles saw a 2.1 percent increase year-over-year for August; in July, prices only increased by 0.4 percent.

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California real estate market is stranger than it's ever been


That's the takeaway from today's California Association of Realtors Housing Market Forecast for 2013. CAR Chief Economist Leslie Appleton-Young presented the data, and the date is...basically unprecedented. Appleton-Young said that she's never seen a market quite like it.

However, she doesn't think that the market is distorted. You could be excused for thinking that it is. For starters, according the the CAR, prices in California fell almost 60 percent from their bubble highs before the financial crisis. But at the moment, several factors are intersecting. There's not enough supply to meet housing demand in the state. Combined with historically low interest rates, this is pushing up prices. And investors snapping up properties they consider to be historically underpriced are sweeping into the market, using all-cash offers to gobble up homes.

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Distressed home sales are declining across Southern California

Distressed-Sales-August

CAR

Distressed homes sales have been declining in Southern California large counties both year-over-year and month-over-month.

Inventory-Tight

CAR

The supply of homes for sale has been getting tighter and tighter since last year, reducing pending sales but pushing up prices in many cases.


The California Association of Realtors released data on August pending and distressed home sales today — data that shows that the housing market in the Southland and elsewhere in the state is improving to the degree that a lack of housing inventory is becoming a problem. 

This could ultimately be a good problem to have, if its spurs builders, such as L.A.-based KB Home, to start constructing new houses. KB beat earnings expectations last week and now seems to be pretty bullish on a housing recovery.

It's also good for sellers, as a shortage of supply is pushing prices up. It's worth noting that market is now clearing the overhang of distressed properties, a process that we've been waiting for particularly in hard-hit California. As you can see from the charts above, distressed sales — short sales and foreclosed properties, or "REOs" ("real estate owned") — have been falling year-over-year and month-over-month is Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties. 

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Case-Shiller: Los Angeles loses a bit of ground in June

David McNew/Getty Images

A "for sale" sign stands outside a home in Pasadena. The Case-Shiller index for June showed prices moving up slightly in L.A. for June, but not as much as in May.

June Case-Shiller numbers have just been released. The news for Los Angeles — one of the 20 U.S. cities whose home prices the index tracks — is mixed. Prices in L.A. didn't mount gains that were as strong as May, when they ticked up 2.2 percent from April. For June, the rise was only 1.7 percent, just slightly better than the 1.5 percent the city's housing market turned in for the March-April period.

Year-over-year, prices in Los Angeles were down 0.6 percent. Yes, that's a tiny drop, but it was significant enough for Standard & Poor's, the company that owns the Case-Shiller index, to call it out, in the context of a national trend of price increases since last June: "There were only six cities – Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York and San Diego – where the annual rates of change were still negative."

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Case-Shiller: Los Angeles home prices continue to rise in May

May Case-Shiller

S&P

Home prices continue to rise in Los Angeles and the U.S., but overall, they're still down from a year ago.

May Case-Shiller numbers are out, and for Los Angeles, the news is good. Prices moved up 2.2 percent from April to May, according to the index, which tracks data for both a 10- and 20-city group. This reinforces a trend that we saw starting earlier this year.

As I wrote last month:

In L.A., February-March saw a tiny 0.1-percent increase after a January-February month-on-month decline. But the March-April uptick was better: 1.5 percent. This could mean that prices are gaining a footing and could start to build on their gains.

And now April-May was better still. In fact, with a 2.2-percent increase, L.A. matched the composite, which was up 2.2 percent in the aggregate. However, year-over-year, L.A. home prices for the period were down more than for the overall index: a decline of 2 percent.

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