I’m almost feeling like we can breathe again.  We’re not out of the woods, but here in San Diego, we’re headed in the right direction.  And surprisingly, the next generation of home buyers is not running screaming into the night frightened by the plague of foreclosures, but rather embraces the idea of one day owning a home.  Check the numbers.  What do you think?

According to a January 2011 Harris poll conducted on behalf of Trulia, the American Dream of home ownership is alive and well.  70% of those surveyed say that home ownership is still part of their dream, and 78% of homeowners surveyed say that their home is the best investment they ever made.  Well, those are probably folks who didn’t buy in 2004-2006.  Buyers during those years are probably the 20% who feel trapped in an underwater equity home or the 14% who are considering just walking away.  Like I said, we’re not out of the woods.

But what I found very refreshing is that 88% of 18-34 year olds aspire to be homeowners, and overall  in the west 70% of renters plan to become homeowners.  In my estimation, this group will drive the long-term recovery, and drive the next real estate bump in value. Only 10% plan on buying in the next 24 months, but they will help prime the pump.  By 2015 we could be in the midst of the next upswing.

So when to buy?  Consult with your accountants and money managers, but my bet is now….just as we turn the corner and start to head up.

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In a survey of the 50 largest U.S. cities, Trulia found that it is still more affordable to buy than rent, even in San Diego.  But does this survey tell the whole story?

According to the guidelines the company used, a price-to-rent ratio of 1-15 means that it is more affordable to buy than rent, a ratio of 16 – 20 indicates it is more expensive, but still might make financial sense, and a ratio of 21+ means that it is definitely much more expensive to buy than rent.  San Diego scored a 15, and only 4 cities were over 21, including San Francisco, Seattle, New York, and a surprise, Kansas City, MO.

That all sounds well and good, but it should be pointed out that the survey compared the cost of buying versus renting 2 bedroom apartments, condos and townhomes, not single family residences.  The company arrived at the numbers by comparing the median list price of homes offered on their website for 2 bedroom units to the median rent for a comparable home.  Also, I’m not sure that looking at list price is an accurate indicator as most homes do not sell at list price.

The other problem I have with the survey is that it doesn’t take into account the level of demand for apartments or townhomes versus single family homes.  In New York or San Francisco, there is a much higher demand for condo living than there is here in San Diego.  I believe a more accurate survey for our market would be the comparison of buying versus renting a 3 bedroom 2 bath single family home analyzing sales price and actual rent paid.

The survey results did however indicate an interesting shift in the demographics of who is buying and renting.  According to Tara-Nicholle Nelson, consumer educator for Trulia, “Lifelong renters are seizing the opportunity to become homeowners while affordability is high. At the same time, a growing number of long-time homeowners are finding themselves tenants – some by choice and others by necessity.”

In the end, I don’t really believe that renting or buying a home is just about the numbers, and who is under the roof with you is much more important than the cost.

Once again, Santa forgot to bring me a crystal ball.  So this look into the future of the housing market is based on trends from the past year, projections from those that crunch the numbers, and my gut feelings based on life in the real estate trenches.

Foreclosures continued to be the top story in 2010 with robo-signing and questionable practices making headlines.  In 2011 so-called shadow inventory will be making news as it grows and clogs the pipeline.  This includes borrowers that are 90 days or more delinquent, homes in foreclosure, and bank-owned properties not yet on the market.  S & P estimates that it will take 41 months to clear the backlog, continuing to slow the recovery.

Short sales will increase as the government and lenders try to stem the deluge of foreclosures that add to the shadow inventory.   Right now about 35% of defaults end in a cure or short sale.  I see that number growing as banks and the government iron out the problems with HAFA (Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives), and the processing of short sales is streamlined.

Loan modifications will continue to be largely unsuccessful.   There is some hope for small improvement in the numbers if the FHA principal reduction program can be expanded.

Mortgage interest rates jumped this last month, but are gradually heading down.   Frank Nothaft, chief economist for Freddie Mac foresees rates staying below 5.00% throughout the year.  Let’s hope he’s right.

Home sales will increase, especially for first-time buyers, provided interest rates remain low and the economy continues to improve.  If unemployment continues to decrease and incomes increase we should see an increase in home sales over 2010 by the 2nd half of the New Year.

Home values throughout most of the country will reach the bottom by mid-year and many areas, such as San Diego County will see modest gains of 2.00 – 4.00%.  The exception continues to be the luxury home market where home prices in locations such as La Jolla and Rancho Santa Fe will continue to decline.

My advice?  If you own a home and are not terribly upside-down, hang tight.  Looking to buy?  Do it now!  This is a great time to purchase your first home or pick-up an investment property.  Struggling with your payments?  Let’s explore your options, before it’s too late.  Overall, I’m cautiously optimistic.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

The sarcastic answer in today’s market might be, “Not much.”  My husband thinks that some sort of insanity has a grip on his otherwise logical wife.  He just shakes his head as I watch one more episode of House Hunters or Property Virgins and asks, “Don’t you get sick of looking at houses?”

And I guess for me, that’s where the answer lies:  I love houses!  Big houses, little houses, modern, traditional, tree houses…..I am completely intrigued by the shelters we each call home.  From the time I was a little girl, I enjoyed drawing pictures of different types of houses and designing floor plans.  And today, every time I unlock a door to show a home I’m still excited to see what we’ll find inside.  Okay, sometimes its cockroaches and filthy walls, but looking past the mistreatment, the bones of the home have something to say.

Houses solve the most basic problems of existence.  Our homes provide shelter, protection, and a place to prepare and eat food.  And if that is where their function and purpose ended, being a Realtor would be pretty dull.  But houses speak volumes not only about who we are individually, but who we are as a country and civilization.  Houses reflect how we as people, wherever we live, respond to the challenges of our physical and economic environment.

Since WWII the U.S. has witnessed a huge housing boom where we’ve seen our houses change along with our economy and lifestyle.   The small bedrooms, closets and bathrooms of the 1950s have given way to master suites that often occupy as much as a third of the total square footage.  Kitchens are no longer cloistered behind a swinging door, but are open to the living area. And who would have thought that you’d ever hang a TV above the fireplace?

As we all continue to feel the economic squeeze of recent years, we see new trends developing in our homes as well.  The mega mansions so popular at the early part of this century are just too expensive to maintain, and we see many people downsizing to more manageable homes.  Little used rooms, such as a formal living room are becoming obsolete as the great room becomes the center of the home.  And as interior space shrinks we develop our exterior spaces as outdoor rooms.  Less is the new more, and I predict that the need to reduce our footprint will drive significant changes in our homes over the next twenty years.

So do I love being a Realtor?  Absolutely!  Can’t wait to see what I’ll discover tomorrow behind the next front door.