PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix metro housing market is seeing a rise in home prices and a decline in the number of houses on the market, putting the area ahead of most other U.S. cities on the road to recovery, according to real estate experts.
Economists say the upward trend in the Phoenix area may serve as a beacon of hope for other cities across the nation that suffered when the housing bubble burst.
"The Phoenix market will be a benchmark city to monitor for residents in Las Vegas, the Inland Empire of California and ... the Florida market," said Lawrence Yun, chief economist with the National Association of Realtors.
The median price for Phoenix-area homes in May was about 30 percent higher than it was the same time last year, according to a monthly report released by the W. P. Carey School of Business's Center for Real Estate Theory and Practice at Arizona State University. The report also shows there are about half as many houses on the market as there were the same time last year.
The Phoenix area market was one of the hardest hit in the nation in terms of distressed properties, but the state's foreclosure system allows it to work through the backlog more quickly than states in which foreclosures have to go through the judicial process. Banks and mortgage companies have the power in Arizona to foreclose homes without a judge's approval.
Nevada's foreclosure system is largely the same. Nasser Daneshvary, director of University of Nevada, Las Vegas's Lied Institute for Real Estate Studies, said speedy foreclosures are healthy for the market. Too many foreclosures can sink home prices, as happened in both Phoenix and Las Vegas, but Daneshvary said a return to the depths experienced during the housing collapse isn't likely in either city.
Arizona's job market, with an unemployment rate that's down to 8.2 percent from its March 2010 peak of 10.8 percent, is also a factor in real estate improvements. Yun said other areas that have sluggish job markets are likely to see slower real estate recoveries, with fewer people able to buy homes.
Michael Orr, director of the Center for Real Estate Theory and Practice at ASU's Carey school, said dwindling housing inventory, coupled with prices that are still relatively low, means sellers now hold the power in the Phoenix-area market, and receive multiple offers, many of which come from investors who are looking to buy and rent out houses.
"Now we've got too few homes. Everybody's wishing the investors would go away and stop buying, but the investors are still here buying everything they can with cash, which makes it pretty difficult for ordinary home buyers to compete," Orr said.
Sandy and Luis Solis said they found that to be true. The couple, who moved from Los Angeles to Scottsdale last year, said the rapid decline in homes available in their price range made them feel hurried to buy. They made offers on three homes but were outbid by cash offers twice, the second time by an investor. They're in the final stages of closing on a house in Phoenix.
"We were kind of losing hope that we were going to find the right home for us," Sandy Solis said.
Las Vegas and some cities in California are seeing similar situations. Daneshvary said investors who buy housing for the purpose of renting are better for the market than others in the past who have purchased houses just to flip them. He said by the time investors stop buying, the market will be healthy enough to remain stable.
With houses in short supply, the construction industry will step in to fill the void. Orr said home building in the Phoenix area is slowly beginning to pick up, but it will likely be stifled by a shortage of construction workers in the state. He said Arizona has lost "80 to 90 percent of that skilled workforce" in the last six or seven years because workers have gone elsewhere or left the industry altogether.
Orr said the Phoenix-area's home market recovery will likely level out over the next few months.
"I just don't want people to think the next quarter is going to accelerate at the same rate," Orr said. "That's not likely to happen."
That, Yun said, is a sign that the market will recover in a more healthy way.
In the long term, some city's housing markets may end up in better shape than they were before the housing market crash. Yun said parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and the Dakotas didn't experience huge housing market losses but are benefiting from widespread improvements in economies.