How Missing the Bubble Hurt Dallas Real Estate
Our home prices didn’t collapse. But that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Let’s talk about Miami. Yes, Miami. The 305. The MIA. Miami of Florida. It happens to be relevant to Dallas real estate. At least it does for the purposes of the following example.
That example: a friend of mine named Drew bought a home in Miami’s Coral Gables neighborhood in 1999, a lovely bungalow of less than 1,300 square feet. He moved in with his wife, a tall, blond Texan whom he met in Dallas. Two kids came later. So, too, did a humongous housing boom. You might have heard of this boom. It swept the nation in the middle of the last decade. Everybody was in on it. Well, not everyone. Specifically, not everyone who bought homes in the Dallas area. But back to Drew. Eventually he needed to move to a bigger place. Except he couldn’t. Even though that little $200,000 bungalow had boomed right up to $500,000 in value, the bigger, better houses nearby were worth a whole lot more than that—making them a whole lot more than Drew could afford. Suddenly, the housing boom was over. Miami’s housing prices fell 50 percent from their 2006 peak. And markets in California and Arizona and, well, just about everywhere else cascaded, too. Everywhere else except Dallas. Because in Dallas, the bust was hardly felt. And Dallas homeowners, real estate agents, economist eggheads, and probably a few people from this magazine—which declared, in 2006, that Dallas real estate was “the best deal in the country”—have been doing a celebratory dance about avoiding that bursting home bubble ever since.
Now, here’s the catch and why Drew’s story is relevant to Dallas: Drew did sell that little bungalow. Just last year, he cashed in for $400,000. Right. Even after the bust, his home was worth twice what he paid for it. Certainly Drew played the market just right. And unquestionably he could have made more money had he sold sooner. But, still, his story makes you wonder if a bursting bubble is really all that bad.
There’s another way to tell this story. It does not involve cute kids, quaint bungalows, and Texas blondes. It just involves boring old numbers. But the numbers may be more instructive. Let’s consider the Case-Shiller Index of home prices, which is brought to us by the fine folks over at Standard & Poor’s. During the boom, Miami, overall, saw prices for pre-owned homes appreciate more than 180 percent over where they were in 2000. Dallas, during the peak of the national housing boom—in June 2007—posted about a 26 percent price gain for pre-owned homes over its year 2000 prices. Miami has since sunk. Dallas, too. But Miami’s prices are still 49 percent higher than they were in 2000, whereas Dallas has seen only a 19 percent price appreciation in the same time.
Only? Well, okay, a 19 percent gain is nothing to complain about. But shouldn’t a boom-bust city like Miami—an exemplar of the evil housing bubble—be doing much worse than Dallas, which has seen slow and steady appreciation over the past 10 years? Isn’t the tortoise supposed to win the race? (Didn’t this very magazine say that very thing in 2006?)
If you ask Jim Gaines, a research economist at the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, he’ll tell you that the race isn’t quite over. He notes that Miami’s prices, as measured on the Case-Shiller Index, are still falling. They dropped 12 percent from the latter part of 2008 to near the end of 2009, while Dallas posted a slight 1.4 percent gain. “I think the whole state of Texas was still probably better off not going through the boom,” Gaines says. “Most of the areas in the country that have been hardest hit by the current recession are the areas that did go through the boom.”
Specifically he means Miami and Phoenix and Las Vegas and cities all over California, all of which rode the boom to huge gains in housing prices. Las Vegas had a Case-Shiller Index rating of 235 back in 2006. Today it is 104. That’s lower than Dallas’ 119, and it means Las Vegas’ once hot pre-owned homes are now worth just 4 percent more than they were in 2000. And prices are still falling in Sin City.
Gaines has done some pencil chewing over this issue, and he figures that the housing market crash has precipitated other economic disruptions for the hardest-hit cities. Foreclosures are one obvious example. But look again at the numbers. This time, the unemployment numbers: in our area, the unemployment rate is 8 percent, two points below the national average. In Miami, it is 11.3 percent. In Las Vegas, 13.1. Whether unemployment is causing the home market’s woes or the other way around is a matter for the eggheads to debate. But the unemployment numbers do indicate that the turtle has a shot at pulling ahead.
“Throughout this downturn, the Dallas-Fort Worth economy has held up better than a lot of other large metropolitan areas,” says Bernard Weinstein, an economist at SMU’s Cox School of Business. “That doesn’t make the area a residential nirvana. We have our problems. We have foreclosures, and the number of foreclosures seems to be increasing. But from 2004 to 2007, this area added about 300,000 jobs, then lost about 90,000 jobs since the fall of 2008. That’s still a gain of 200,000 jobs, and it’s job growth that ultimately drives the demand for housing.”
Bad news: job growth in Dallas has been stagnant in early 2010. Good news: the local housing market, at least if a sampling of local real estate agents is to be believed, is not. Prices have stabilized or increased slightly in many markets. And inventories—the number of homes available for sale—have shrunk. Housing inventories in some suburban cities and Dallas neighborhoods are at a four-year low (and a decade-long low in other areas). Real estate agents speculate that the inventory decline is due, in part, to potential sellers deciding to wait out the economic slowdown, rather than trying to sell. But just as big a factor: homebuilders have stopped their once incessant hammering.
“Home building saw explosive growth up to 2006,” says Ted Wilson of Residential Strategies, a Dallas firm that tracks the local building industry. Wilson says new home construction has dropped 73 percent since its peak in 2006, mainly because builders—the ones who haven’t gone broke—have a much harder time finding financing for their projects. Still, Wilson says he’s hopeful that new home building is about to pick up, and he says homebuilders reported increasing traffic in their properties during the end of 2009 and the start of this year.
So, okay, fine. We missed the boom. And, yes, some of us therefore missed out on the big profits that came to those who timed the markets in Miami and San Diego and Tucson. But, yes, we also missed the bust. And the bust may well wipe out the paper gains of all those folks who haven’t yet cashed out in those boom-bust markets—that is, if they haven’t already been foreclosed on. Bernard Weinstein is right that Dallas is no residential nirvana. Few people, for instance, in the highest-priced markets of the Park Cities, North Dallas, Plano, and Southlake have likely entered a transcendental state as they’ve seen median prices fall by 25 percent or more over the past couple of years, a decline brought on by a dearth of buyers, a tightening of loan requirements at the high end of the market, and, yes, maybe a mini, Miami-esque bubble. Still, real estate agents in those markets think prices there might be leveling off. And more moderately priced homes—the bulk of the Dallas market, places such as Lewisville, Farmers Branch, Carrollton, Frisco, McKinney, Oak Cliff, and East Dallas—may be selling again at rates and prices approaching their prebust levels.
The bottom line, says real estate agent Wendy Hulkowich, of Dallas’ Hulkowich Group, is that “a home that has the combination of good location, condition, and price is not staying on the market more than what had been normal.” Normal? Well, at least you can’t say that about Miami.