Just because all the talking heads are saying "housing is back!" doesn't mean everyone is buying it. There's a high degree of skepticism surrounding the housing recovery, according to a recent survey by the MacArthur Foundation. According to the survey, 77 percent of homeowners don't believe the housing crisis is over, with some saying the worst is yet to come. That hasn't stopped the overwhelming chorus of economists and housing experts chanting about the real estate market being in a full-swing recovery. So how do you know if the housing recovery is real? Well, see for yourself.
There are a number of signs just outside your front door that can tell you whether your own neighborhood is experiencing a recovery. Housing is local, after all, and just because some parts of California are experiencing a housing frenzy doesn't mean people living on the opposite coast are. Click through the gallery below to see seven signs that can tell you whether your neighborhood is being nursed back to housing health.
Signs the Housing Recovery Has Moved Into Your Neighborhood
The general atmosphere of the housing market is favoring sellers right now, but many are still nervous about putting their homes on the market. So if you start seeing more "for sale" signs on your street, that's a sign that confidence is returning to your neighborhood and homeowners are betting that the local market is heating up, said Barry Habib, founder and CEO of mortgage-market analyst MBS Highway.
"As the old song says, 'Sign, sign, everywhere a sign.' ... If the signs are plentiful, the market is on the upswing or even in full swing," Habib said.
But it's not just about quantity -- it's also about how long those signs stay up. Are "pending sale" or "sold" signs quick to follow after the initial for-sale sign goes up? That's an even better indicator that your neighborhood is returning to health, said Los Angeles Redfin broker Eric Tan.
"We want to see an increase in the number of 'for sale' signs in the neighborhood, but also 'sold' signs, showing that these houses are selling and not just sitting on the market for long periods of time," Tan said.
How fast should that "for sale" sign be switching to "sold"? Well, according to a recent Redfin report, the percentage of homes across 19 major metros that went under contract within two weeks of being listed rose from 26 percent in December to 30 percent in January. Now that's fast, but if you see "for sale" signs lingering for more than a couple of months, your neighborhood still has a ways to go before it can be called healthy.
"People can get a good feel for the state of the housing market just by looking at their neighbors' houses and yards," said John Egnatis, co-founder of Grenadier Homes. "As the housing market starts to recover, people begin to feel more secure in maintaining and beautifying their homes. So recent renovations, manicured lawns, new paint, exterior lighting, flower beds and water features can all indicate a healthier housing market."
But why does that necessarily mean that the market is improving? Habib said that many people making improvements to their homes are doing so in preparation to sell. So if you see that your neighbors are suddenly sprucing up their homes' curb appeal, it could mean that they believe buyers are attracted to the neighborhood.
"If a for-sale property is well maintained, this usually indicates the current owner is investing time and money in anticipation of selling the home for a good price within a reasonable period of time," Habib said. "By contrast, if the for-sale house looks like it was abandoned, then the home likely has been on the market for a lengthy period, which is an indicator of a slumped market."
In some areas of the country, like New York City, property beautification and for-sale signs aren't as obvious. So when you can't see the signs on the street, go to an open house.
"If there is a lot of foot traffic at open houses, it’s a good indicator that there’s demand for homes in the area," said Gary Malin, president of real estate firm Citi Habitats in the New York City area.
Pay attention to the shoppers who are at the open house for another signal that interest in the neighborhood is picking up. If you don't recognize many people there, that's good.
"Open houses may now generate less neighbor traffic and more qualified-buyer traffic -- and in greater numbers," said Chip Collins of Collins Group Realty in Hilton Head, S.C. If people from outside the community are coming to open houses, that's a sure-fire sign that your neighborhood is gaining steam.
Obviously the best sign that housing is moving in your neighborhood is that people are actually buying! There's no better indicator of that than seeing new neighbors moving in, the ultimate confirmation that your neighborhood's housing market is healthy.
But this isn't just apparent in homebuying activity. Renters in the neighborhood can show a good sign of housing strength, too, said Los Angeles Realtor Chantay Bridges of Los Angeles Real Estate Now.
"Properties where the tenants are renters or leasers tend to have a high turnover rate," Bridges said, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. As long as occupancy rates remain steady, it shows that the neighborhood is in demand.
"Enrollment at the neighborhood school is a huge but often overlooked indicator," said Jacqueline Edelberg, co-author of How to Walk to School: Blueprint for a Neighborhood School Renaissance. The enrollment level can tell you how many families are moving into the neighborhood. If enrollment is low, that could indicate that people aren't settling in there. Of course, it could also mean that the neighborhood is popular for a different demographic, or there could be people moving who have yet to start a family.
Collins said that if people are calling in contractors for various home projects -- but particularly home inspections -- it's a sign that they're preparing to put their homes on the market. And if they're doing that, it means that buyers are probably looking in your area.
"Neighbors will see an increase in contractor traffic from home inspectors, to termite inspectors, to repair people, to renovators, to moving vans," Collins said. The tell-tale sign is housing inspectors, though. Every buyer knows -- or should know -- that a home inspection is a must before closing on a sale. So if your neighbors have home inspectors over, it's a good bet that they've got an interested buyer.
Watch what your neighbor is selling his or her home for. If they're getting more than their properties are worth, then you know your neighborhood housing market is on the up-and-up.
"In neighborhoods, property values stair-step upward," Egnatis said. "For instance, if one of your neighbors decides to sell his home, you can go on the Internet and find out what that property value is and what he’s selling it for. If he sells it quickly for a higher price point, then you have more confidence in the value of your own property."
That will probably tell you that with a little maintenance and some home improvement measures, you can sell your home for a great price, too. Once you do that, your neighbor may want to do the same thing, and before you know it, you've got a neighborhood filled with confidence and actual numbers to back it up.