Home Value Killers of 2011: Inventory and Unemployment

2011The current consensus seems to be that home values in most parts of the U.S. will decline, as we head into 2011. This should come as little surprise, when you consider the current level of housing inventory and unemployment.

But we may find ourselves surprised by the full scope of the price erosion. Once hailed as the “year of recovery” for the housing market, 2011 could be very similar to 2010.

Housing Inventory = Downward Pressure on Home Values

According to the S&P/Case-Shiller home-price index, home values nationwide fell 0.7 percent from August to September of this year. There was also a quarterly decline in values from the second to third quarters of 2010. That’s not to say there weren’t pockets of positivity, as in Washington D.C. where prices actually rose during the same period. But nationally speaking, the current trend is downward.

The foreclosure freeze will prolong the high inventory of homes, and probably add to it as well. If the listing of new homes continues to outpace the purchase of those homes, the inventory will rise in the coming months. Absent a major spike in home-buying activity, this will drive prices down in most areas. Supply and Demand 101.

Unemployment: Other Half of the Double-Whammy

The latest unemployment figures (as of December 2010) were unchanged over the previous month, still hovering at 9.6 percent. Some states, such as California, have more than 12 percent unemployment. This will continue to be a drag on the housing market in 2011.

Thankfully, though, we are starting to see some positive trends in the employment world. The unemployment rate in Virginia has fallen steadily over the last few months, and now sits at 6.8 percent. There are other cities and states with similar scenarios. So we will certainly see some job growth in 2011. But it will be a trickle.

What This Means for Homeowners

If you’re not planning to sell or refinance your home in the near future, this doesn’t affect you very much. Sure, your home values might drop a bit more over the next year or so. But they’ll trend upward again — eventually.

If you do plan to sell your house in 2011, you need to be realistic about how you price it. If you bought your home more than three years ago, there’s a good chance your home value has dropped since then. If you live in California, Arizona, Florida, Nevada or Detroit … well, I don’t need to tell you, do I?

The point is, you need to find out what your home is worth in the current market, and price it accordingly. It doesn’t matter what you paid for the home. It doesn’t matter how much you owe on your mortgage. Buyers and their agents will use recent sales data to evaluate your asking price. If you’ve overpriced the home out of desperation or wishful thinking, they’ll know. And they won’t give you the time of day.

What It Means for Home Buyers

If you can qualify for a mortgage loan, 2011 looks like another great year to buy a home. While home values might continue to drop in some areas, they probably don’t have far to fall. Karl Case, retired economics professor and co-creator of the S&P/Case-Shiller Index, recently said: “If I were betting even odds, I’d bet that we don’t have much further decline, but that we bounce along the bottom.”

So even if home values drop a bit after you buy, they’ll start upward again … and probably sooner rather than later. Additionally, mortgage rates will likely stay below 5 percent for most of 2011. So you have a combination of low home prices, a low cost of borrowing, and plenty of inventory. It’s a pretty good scenario for qualified home buyers.