Feature

Is the housing market recovering?

Homeowners got some welcome news from a closely watched home-price index. Will the good news last?

Good news for “homeowners and the economy,” said Mark Trumbull in The Christian Science Monitor. The “widely watched” S&P/Case-Shiller home price index rose in May, for the first time since July 2006. The modest 0.5 percent rise “doesn’t necessarily signal the end of America’s housing downturn,” but—alongside other data showing rises in home prices and sales volume—it strongly suggests “progress in one of the economy’s key trouble spots.”

When it comes to the economy, “we take good news where we can find it,” said Floyd Norris in The New York Times. But it’s unclear if the gains will endure, or if the price uptick in 14 of the Case-Shiller’s 20 cities—and the slowing deflation of the “desert bubbles” of Las Vegas and Phoenix—is only due to seasonal factors.

The seasonally adjusted numbers are the ones to watch, anyway, said Peter Coy in BusinessWeek, and they showed a monthly price fall of only 0.16 percent, or a year-over-year drop of less than 2 percent. That’s great news—from last September to March, the Case-Shiller index was dropping at an annual rate of more than 20 percent. When the May numbers came out, “even some longtime bears were impressed.”

“People looking for a bottom here are being premature,” said Felix Salmon in Reuters. There is a huge supply of unsold houses, yet it’s “still very hard to buy” one unless you have a very large down payment. The “precipitous” fall in housing prices may be over, but what's next may be just “a slow grind lower over many years.” Don’t buy now unless you’re okay with that.

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