If 2011 was any precursor, it makes it difficult to make any prediction for what the market will do in 2012. As a result, many of the predictions you will hear about for this year may be totally worthless given the amount of change that is in store. In the past we’ve offered insight as to what the market will look like and what we can expect moving forward and throughout the year, and we’ve had success in this regard. However, something is different for this year. It seems that there are too many “ifs” out there to pin-point exactly where we stand and to justify a full blown economic recovery in 2012, especially where residential real estate is concerned. There are far too many outlying macro-economic and Geo-political instability issues that fly in the face of what a foundation for a recovery looks like. Many pundits and “experts” predict nothing more than a sputtering real estate market for 2012 and not the type of housing recovery that spurts the economy the way we need it to. Nevertheless, regardless of what’s going on in terms of a national or global scale, it’s important to remember one thing: everyone needs to know that real estate is local. What I mean is that what is going on globally doesn’t really affect the value and desirability for homes in San Diego County. In other words, if a listing is not selling, it is probably due to the fact that it’s priced too high and not because the stock market tanked today, or because of the earthquake in Japan. Conversely, the price of oil and the tensions in the Middle East shouldn’t take a commanding role in the decision making process when buying a home. Yet, buyers and sellers tend to complicate the issue and bring the context of their real estate outside the realm in which it should be, which is local.

For buyers in this market:

For San Diego, our market is looking quite good relative to what is happening in the rest of the country. This market is now 5 years removed from the onset of the housing correction. We don’t predict a full blown recovery this year, however we do see a fantastic buying opportunity for this and next year. Affordability for a home buyer today is the highest that it has been for decades. We see that San Diego has corrected, on average, about 25% below its peak and prices have stabilized for some time now. To further sweeten the current situation, we should all know that mortgage interest rates have been hovering around 4% which is near the lowest ever seen. To underline how substantially different a buying opportunity is today, and why it’s such a great time to buy a home, let’s consider what the typical buying situation right before the peak of the boom looked like, and compare it to today’s market.

For this example, we take a 2 bedroom 1 bath entry level home in the metro area of San Diego. This area of San Diego has corrected lower about 25% off the peak values of 2005, which is right about the average of the downturn/correction in price for the county in general. In 2005, this home would be selling for $500,000+ and you would absolutely be competing with several other buyers in the market place. There were only a few thousand homes available throughout the county at that time and the market had a crazed atmosphere, and many a times a buyer would have to write several offers on several properties and compete aggressively before being able to get their offer accepted. Many times your offer would have to be several thousand dollars higher than list price to win-out on a home over the stiff competition. Mortgage interest rates around this time were in the mid 5% range, and because everyone could qualify for a loan, there were a lot of people looking and able to buy. In terms of a monthly payment, this home with a 20% down payment would be about $2800 per month.

Today, on the other hand, this same house can be bought for about $375,000. Mortgage rates are hovering around 4% meaning that this same home at a 20% down payment would cost roughly $1800 a month for the mortgage. Furthermore, the supply of homes on the open market is much greater than that of 2005, meaning that, for the most part, buyers aren’t normally having to compete with other buyers on every home they see. Deals are out there and many of the potential buyers are still on the sidelines waiting for some sign to let them know that it’s OK to enter back into the market. Well, this is me telling you that THIS is the BEST time to get in the market if you are able. Lots of people would love to buy, but the stringent loan guidelines force many to take measures to improve credit or save more of a down payment – they couldn’t buy even if they want to because they cannot qualify for a loan. Even so, many buyers are fearful that prices will continue to erode and there is a lack of consumer confidence within the housing market and the economy in general.

With that in mind, I truly feel that 2012 will essentially bring a change of attitude and perception for the housing market. It won’t happen immediately, but how did you feel reading the above comparison on the same house from 2005 compared to now? Not only is the home $125,000 less expensive, but your payment would be $1000 less each month and you can lock a 4% loan fixed for 30 years! The prices in many places are nearing the point where it costs almost as much to rent compared to buying – this unique market situation (where rent vs. owning being nearly the same cost) isn’t supposed to be happening in San Diego because it’s such a prime real estate market, but here is where we find ourselves in 2012: a market with ample opportunity, and the only direction I see the real estate market going in this county is up.

Over the past several decades we have been witness to booms and busts (recessions) in the economy. The average boom lasts between 3 and 4 years, and the average bust, or recession typically lasts 12 to 18 months. This is what has been experienced historically since the early 20th century. Put into today’s context, the boom that preceded the “great recession” that we have been muddling through the past several years was an economic boom of fantastic proportions, so it would make sense that the bust that follows is somewhat equal in its extent as the economy works out the kinks and problems that got us to where we stand today. In 2012 we are now 5 years beyond when the correction and recessionary phase first began. This is a long time, but after a 10 year boom, the economy needed just as substantial a bust to bring the fundamentals to a more healthy position in order to move forward into the future for the economy and housing market as well.

I am not saying that we have been in a recessionary period long enough, so we ought to be looking better soon just because. I am taking the historical context of our past and applying it to the situation we find ourselves in today and it does make sense. Further, we are seeing gains in consumer confidence, as well as reductions in unemployment. We have continued to grow as a population over the past couple years without adding much at all to the supply of homes, so we can potentially find ourselves in a housing shortage at sometime this or next year and this is something you would never hear the media report on – it’s just not sexy or bloody enough. Nevertheless, the underlying fundamentals are changing for the better, and in a short amount of time we will find ourselves in a better market environment. However, the best opportunities are the ones that are found now in the depths of the correction before everyone enters the marketplace to compete with everyone else – that’s when we will see values beginning to rise again.

If in 2005 you gamed the market, there would be a 20% chance we could continue to go higher in values, and an 80% chance that we were due for a correction. (Of course we all know what happened, but this is what I would advise without knowing what the future had in the cards.) I feel just the opposite for today’s market; there is more likely a chance the market continues to improve rather than stagnate further. Take into account the fantastic interest rate environment, the reduced prices and the options that buyers have by means of the overall supply of homes on the market, and you would conclude that there is a great deal of opportunity in the marketplace, and it is a great time to be a buyer of real estate right now. We are advising our clients to consider entering the market or investing now before interest rates rise or you get priced out of the market, or competition increases substantially – or a combination of all 3.

Over the course of 2012, who knows what can and will happen on a national scale, but San Diego will continue to progress, steadily doing its thing, and being one of the front runner cities that is leading the nation out of recession and into the recovery. Expect to see that the general consensus for real estate to improve. Expect modest improvements in prices at a strong single digit growth rate. You can still expect to see a lot of superfluous hyperbole within the media on a national scale when it comes to the housing market, but know that San Diego has a strong industry base that creates decent jobs, substantiates prices, and allows for upside and growth. We’ve been brought into the fire, and we are on our way out. It’s important to strike the opportunity while the iron is hot, and while there is still a considerable amount of people who still don’t believe we have hit bottom yet.

For Sellers:

Because we will not be vacillating much in price in the near future, holding out to sell for a higher price may not be the most advisable thing to do unless you can hold out and wait for years. I know a few owners who think that the future of home prices will depend on if a republican or democrat is in the white house – although this may have some effect in the long term and on a very indirect basis – remember, all real estate is local. I feel that holding out a year or so won’t net you too much more or less than where we stand today, so it makes sense to make a move now so that you can take advantage of the great buying opportunities in the market for your replacement. For those homeowners who are considering doing a short sale, 2012 is the last year that the IRS will exempt the forgiven debt for anyone that completes a successful short sale. If it’s your primary house, and you are underwater, you will have to pay income taxes on the forgiven debt after the end of this year, so talk with your Tax professional, because if this is something that is the best financial path forward, then it’s important that you act quickly in order to get the ball rolling as it does take 4 months at the least for a successful short sale from start to finish. Overall, there are opportunities in this market for sellers as well as buyers, just make sure that your moves align with your long term goals, and utilize your professional Realtor or financial professional for assistance.

For Investors:

Multi-Family property is a property type that we feel very strongly in favor of for the foreseeable future. More population and fewer buildable areas in San Diego means more density, and therefore more demand for multi-family housing as it is both affordable and convenient (usually in densely populated areas) For these reasons, we are advising our investor clients to consider 2-4 unit and 5+unit apartment unit investments as a wonderful strategy moving forward. This property type has more immediate and long term upside not only for the reasons mentioned above, but also because rents have not decreased as much as prices have over the past 5 years, yet the prices for investment properties have come down considerably. Even if you are an investor for a single condo unit, prices have come down so much, yet as I mentioned above, rents remain high, and cash-flow is easily realized, but more importantly, appreciation is on the horizon. In so many cases, you cannot go wrong when the underlying real estate being invested in is San Diego where it truly is paradise.

All in all, we look for 2012 being a “turning point” type of year. One where not only the fundamentals begin to substantially change for the better (like unemployment and local GDP) but also the public perception of real estate in general. The market is poised for a decent year, but not a full blown economic recovery like some would hope. However, many continue to believe that the market will continue to erode and worsen, and we just don’t feel that this is in the cards given the information and analysis we have reviewed. If you can get into this market, buyers can realize a solid performing asset at a great price and lock in phenomenal interest rates, and investors can acquire a fantastic opportunity including both cash-flow and appreciation. For sellers, there’s not much to gain or lose short term in this market, unless you are considering doing a short sale. No matter what your situation, I hope you make 2012 great and take advantage of the great opportunities that lie ahead. Success and prosperity is ahead, please be ready for it!