This report is provided by Jeffrey Otteau of the Otteau Appraisal Group  who also authors a series of widely followed quarterly market reports  on the New Jersey real estate market. This information is collected from various sources including Boards of Realtors and Multiple Listing Systems in New Jersey.
I have known Jeff for many years and consider him one of the leaders in the real estate appraisal profession. He has taught me a lot about quantitative real estate market analysis.
HOME SALES DECLINE FURTHER AT YEAR END
The pace of home sales in New Jersey declined further in December providing compelling evidence that the housing market recession has not yet reached bottom. In December, Contract-Sales activity declined 24% below the November pace and was 31% less than in December 2006. When considered against the backdrop of high Unsold Inventory levels and a looming economic recession, it appears certain that existing-home prices will continue their decline into 2008. As a result, strategies of ‘waiting until Spring’ are ill conceived as overpricing inevitably leads to extended marketing times and lower prevailing market price levels. Best-Practices for a weakening housing market is to price ‘ahead of the decline curve’ to shorten marketing time and capture a higher selling price before prices drift even lower. From the new construction persepective however, many home builders have already embraced this strategy with Right Pricing! that reflects the current market realities. For the next segment on our Right Pricing! Strategy, register to attend our 2008 Spring Workshop Series next month.
Despite the ongoing market decline, some bright spots are emerging. Unsold Inventory declined for the fourth consecutive month and now stands 16% lower than in August, reflecting 12,000 fewer homes on the market. Also encouraging is that mortgage interest rates continue their descent providing a boost to home buyers’ purchasing power and helping to close the housing affordability gap in New Jersey. According to Freddie Mac’s latest Primary Mortgage Market SurveyÂ® (PMMSÂ®), the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 5.48 percent for the week ending January 24, 2008, down from 5.69 percent the prior week and 6.25 percent last year at this time. The last time mortgage rates were lower was March 25, 2004, a time when home buying activity was at a frenzied pace. Another positive factor is yesterday’s announcement that President Bush and House leaders have agreed on an economic stimulus package that would allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to raise the limit on the loans they purchase from $417,000 to $625,500. Similarly the FHA limit would be increased from $362,000 to $725,000. The effect of such increases would be to expand the pool of money for borrowers of so-called Jumbo Mortgages thus increasing liquidity and reducing interest rates for these loans in the process.
The take-away from all of these developments is that while the market has further to fall, the bottom point is getting closer. Home buyers should take notice of these developments as 2008 presents an unusual combination of being in the ‘driver’s seat’ of price negotiations at a time of record low interest rates. Those who wait too long will eventually find this opportunity window closed when higher interest rates and firmer pricing returns to the market.
UPDATE: Here’s more commentary on the New Jersey market .