Despite the many recent signs of life in the real estate market -- one possible explanation for why housing policy has remained largely absent from the presidential debates -- the reality is still grim. The market is far down from where it was in 2008, when the financial crisis was reaching its peak, let alone the days of the housing boom, according to online foreclosure marketplace RealtyTrac's "Election Housing Report."
Only 35 percent of nearly 1,000 housing markets are doing better than they were on the cusp of the last presidential election, when the meltdown was bearing down on the economy at full force, according to the RealtyTrac report released Monday.
The rest of the country's housing markets analyzed by RealtyTrac are in worse shape than they were then, hampered by a persistent glut of foreclosures, high unemployment and depressed home prices, according to the report.
"Even though there's a lot of good signs, the housing market is still a drag on the economy in many ways," said Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac, adding that it still needs some "TLC."
The report found that home prices are below 2008 levels in a majority of counties and that distressed home sales continue to hog a bloated share of total sales. At least 10 percent or more of sales were distressed in most counties, and at least 25 percent were distressed in 1 out of 5 counties, according to the report. That's even considering that existing home sales and home prices are up significantly from last year, and home construction is higher than it's been in four years.
RealtyTrac looked at more than 900 counties nationwide and found that 65 percent of counties measured lower on at least three of five metrics that gauge market stability. The metrics were foreclosure starts (the number of foreclosures initiated), foreclosure sales, foreclosure inventory, the unemployment rate and home prices.
Stubbornly high unemployment and still-rock-bottom home prices appear to be the most consistent drag on the markets examined, Blomquist said.
Some Marked Improvements
Despite the sobering findings, the report also points to marked improvement since the height of the foreclosure crisis. Today, 1.5 million homes are in some stage of foreclosure, down from a peak of 2.2 million in January of 2011, Blomquist said. And foreclosure filings in September, at 180,000, were only about half of what they were in March of 2010, he said.
The markets that have made the most progress are often located in states that allow banks to repossess homes efficiently, Blomquist said. It's partly for this reason that conservatives oppose heavy-handed government action in the housing market and call for -- as Mitt Romney put it -- allowing the housing market to hit bottom, rather than nudging banks to eschew foreclosures.
"Judicial" states, which require a judge to sign off on a foreclosure, are generally moving towards recovery at a slower pace than in non-judicial states, Blomquist said.
"The delays have ensured that people aren't being improperly foreclosed on," he said. "But I also see the other side: 'Well, these foreclosures still have to be dealt with at some point.' "
RealtyTrac Election Housing Report Finds Housing Market Worse Off than in 2008
The former governor of Massachusetts owns a smattering of real estate across the country, including homes in Massachusetts, California and New Hampshire. This collection has been pared down; Romney previously owned two other homes — a large estate in Belmont, Mass., that he sold for $3.5 million in 2009 and a ski home in Park City, Utah, that he also dumped in 2009 for a little over $5.25 million.
When Romney is not on the campaign trail, his main home is in San Diego's beachfront community of La Jolla. Romney and his wife, Ann, purchased the $12 million La Jolla home in 2008, telling reporters that he wanted to be somewhere he could “hear the waves.” Apparently a home on the high-priced California coast (median La Jolla home values hit $1,186,200), was the right location.
It may be the ideal location, but it isn’t quite the ideal home, at least not yet. In August 2011, Romney filed an application with the city to bulldoze the single-story beachfront home and replace it with a larger, two-story home. The construction won’t begin until after election season, though.
The Romneys own an 11-acre property, pictured above, smack dab on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in Wolfeboro. Purchased for $3 million in 1997, the Romneys’ 5,400-square-foot main house and additional guesthouses are home to the extended Romney family each summer.
While Obama did spend part of his childhood in Hawaii before moving to Chicago, he owns just one home -- in the Windy City. He and wife Michelle bought the brick home in 2005 for $1.65 million. Located on Greenwood Avenue, the home was built in 1917 and offers 6,199 square feet of space.
Although Obama hasn’t owned any other properties, an apartment that he rented while attending Columbia University in the mid-’80s is on the rental market in New York.
The two-bed, one-bath Upper West Side apartment has been updated and is available for $2,400 a month.
When it came time for former President George W. Bush to retire from the Oval Office, the 43rd president decided to go back to his home state of Texas, picking up a sprawling 8,000-square-foot home at 10141 Daria Place, which was a downsize from the 55,000-square-foot White House. The Bushes also purchased the property next door but tore it down in 2008. People speculated at the time that the demolition was to expand the former first family’s yard.
Unlike many other presidents, Bill Clinton didn’t own a home during his residency at the White House. Born and raised in Arkansas, the former president and his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, chose to stay on the East Coast and purchased a home in Chappaqua, N.Y. at the end of his second term in office. By several accounts, the Clintons are quite popular in the small Westchester County town. Built in 1889, the Clintons’ home is situated on a cul-de-sac lot and has 5,232 square feet of living space, five beds and four baths.
Before Ronald Reagan lived at the White House, he lived among the star-studded hills of Pacific Palisades and Bel Air. His former Pacific Palisades property was home base for Reagan and his wife, Nancy, until Reagan was elected president in 1981. After two terms as the 40th president of the U.S., “The Gipper” and his wife returned to Los Angeles, picking up a prime slice of real estate in the posh Bel Air neighborhood. The property remains Nancy Reagan’s home today.
Not one, but two of former President Gerald Ford’s homes are currently for sale — one listed in California and one in Colorado. Ford’s Vail home, pictured above, is a testament to his love of skiing and the outdoors. Listed for $9.85 million, the ski-in/ski-out home has been on and off the market starting in 2008, with a hefty price tag of $14.9 million. Gerald Ford’s other home is listed on the Rancho Mirage real estate market for significantly less. The $1.699 million listing is a midcentury ranch-style desert home located on the Thunderbird Country golf course and contains some presidential memorabilia, including a large portrait of Betty Ford hanging in the living room.
One of America’s most famous families holds one of America’s most storied properties. The Kennedy Compound consists of 6 acres of waterfront property on Nantucket Sound in Hyannis Port, Mass., a small village in the town of Barnstable. John F. Kennedy’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy, rented a summer cottage in Hyannis Port in 1926 and purchased the cottage two years later. The home, which Joseph Kennedy enlarged and remodeled, became a summer getaway for his family, who enjoyed sailing on the sound. In 1956, after his marriage to Jacqueline Bouvier, JFK bought a smaller home nearby, and his brother Robert later purchased an adjacent home. Following the recent death of another sibling, Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, the compound was donated to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute.
While we don’t have the first president’s childhood home -- the one where he purportedly chopped down a cherry tree -- we do have a home where George Washington reportedly slept. It is believed that the general hung up his wig at this 1739 homestead, named the “Fowler House.” The number of nights that Washington slept here is up for debate, but if you believe the historic marker on the home, he often stayed here on his way from West Point to Connecticut. The New York home is 5,800 square feet and has five bedrooms and two baths and was recently listed on the Brewster real estate market for $500,000.