It took the Wall Street Journal an entire survey to prove what readers of this column have known for months: The housing recovery, as it plays out, will be a localized event, varying greatly city to city, neighborhood to neighborhood, street to street.
The Journal, god bless them, compiled housing data to compare inventory changes, months supply, price drops, unemployment, and default rates across 28 US metro areas. Unsurprisingly, bubble markets like Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Miami look particularly horrid, whereas areas like Dallas (which avoided much of the housing mania) and cities like Charlotte and Seattle (which are just now seeing price declines accelerate) appear to be holding up rather nicely.
But drilling deeper into the raw data reveals a housing market that's deeply bifurcated, even within individual cities.
As low-end markets experience a sharp increase in buying activity due to supply shortages and vastly lower prices, illiquid high end markets are experiencing violent price swings — typically in the southward direction. This much is already known, and the Journal's study simply shows what we're told ad nauseam: real estate is, in fact, local.
What's far more applicable to home buyers and sellers around the country, however, isn't what a few broad (yet important) data points show about what's happening in a few hundred neighborhoods all lumped together. Instead, it's where individual submarkets are headed. After all, owning a home is an investment in a neighborhood, a street, a community — not necessarily a metropolitan area at large.
Housing prices, by extension — when measured as broadly as a metro area — are basically meaningless.