Each month, Trulia's Housing Barometer charts how quickly the housing market is moving back to "normal." We summarize three key housing market indicators: construction starts (Census), existing home sales (NAR) and the delinquency-plus-foreclosure rate (LPS First Look). For each indicator, we compare this month's data to (1) how bad the numbers got at their worst and (2) their pre-bubble "normal" levels. In December 2012, construction starts jumped dramatically, while home sales and the delinquency-plus-foreclosure rate remained near their strong November levels:
Construction starts leaped to a 54-month high in December. Starts were at a 954,000 annualized rate, up 12% month-over-month and up 37% year-over-year. That's the highest level since June 2008. Looking at all of 2012, starts were up 28% compared with 2011, led by construction in Texas and the Carolinas and by a rebound in multi-unit building construction. Construction starts are now 47% of the way back to normal.
Healthiest and Least-Healthy Markets Going Into 2013
Trulia Housing Barometer: Housing Market 52% Back to Normal
Houston is one of several Texan cities on the rise this year. There are a handful more that number among the healthy markets that made this list. One major reason: job growth. Houston has seen an influx of jobs over the last year, and that will help drive demand for housing. Not that Houston needs it...
The number of homes for sale in the city was at a decade-low in October, with sales of condos and townhouses spiking 41.6 percent from the same period a year earlier, according to the Houston Chronicle. And online listing site RealtyPin.com wagered that, because Houston foreclosures have dwindled and jobs are more plentiful, the city's real estate market will likely be little affected by the fiscal cliff.
The housing market in Detroit has had some wins lately -- home prices jumped 22% in November from a year earlier -- and the outlook was definitely looking bright toward the end of 2012. But here's the thing: Detroit was one of the hardest-hit cities in the nation during the housing bust. Home prices in the city fell so far that they still have a long road back to being healthy.
San Francisco has been riding high on the tail of a recent report from the Urban Land Institute, which predicted that the city's real estate market would be No. 1 for development, investment and homebuilding prospects in 2013. If all that development comes through, it will have a positive impact on further driving housing demand and prices.
San Francisco rents have also surged at the same time median home listing prices have, both surging more than 15 percent in June from a year earlier. At the same time, home inventory was down 40 percent, all those figures combining for a recipe for success. You know things are going good -- well, if you're not a buyer paying those prices -- when your city is voted the second-least-affordable market in the country.
Fort Lauderdale might have finally seen home prices bottom out in 2012 and begin to turn the corner upward, but, even in November, the state of Florida maintained the third-largest foreclosure inventory in the country. The number is edging down in Fort Lauderdale, but the oversupply is expected to continue to weigh on home a local real estate recovery next year.
There are encouraging signs for the city, though. Between September and November, home prices increased 20 percent from the same time period a year earlier, and home sales increased almost 14 percent. But Fort Lauderdale's recovery is in its infancy, and the market will be lucky to even be back to normal levels before the end of 2013.
Strong job growth coupled with one of the lowest foreclosure inventories in the country makes the Bethesda area a promising market in 2013. The local vacancy rate was down to 1.2 percent in November and a foreclosure rate of 2.7 homes per 1,000 in October. The nearby Washington, D.C., market is also experiencing its own recovery, giving a boost to Bethesda.
There's been talk of a possible real estate bubble in Miami, but look passed the hype. It's true that foreign buyers have been driving demand for luxury housing there -- accounting for notched-up home sale prices -- but that can't be sustained under Miami's desolate job market.
San Antonio's housing recovery has outpaced some of the larger metros in Texas, such as Houston and Dallas. But even back in the midst of the real estate crash, San Antonio was better off than most other cities. In the earlier years of the downturn, while most cities were reeling, San Antonio was posting impressive home price increases. Ever since then, it has steadily gotten better every year, putting it in pretty good shape for 2013.
One out of every 349 homes in West Palm Beach received a foreclosure notice in July, Consumer Affairs reported. That's pretty typical for that region, and it's a pretty good sign of a housing market still poisoned and dragged down by the housing crash.
The number of home sales has been a bright spot for the local market, as it has for Florida in general, but sales prices fluctuate rapidly. Between June and July, sales prices took a 15 percent dive. West Palm Beach can expect a lot of the same volatility in 2013.
Seattle was noted as the fifth-best market in Realtor.com's list of "turnaround towns" in the third quarter of 2012. A 13 percent rise in home prices and a 40 percent reduction in housing inventory drove the city's recovery.
Those trends, along with Seattle's low foreclosure rate (1 in every 1,149 housing units in the third quarter), should make the city a strong market in 2013. It's worth noting that Seattle's foreclosure rate experienced an uptick toward the end of 2012, but it still remained well below the Washington State and national averages.
The National Association of Home Builders eyed the Palm Bay-area market as one that is on the cusp of improvement, pointing to increased tourism as a big source of an upswing.
But median home sale prices have remained very low: It was only $78,000 between September and November. Forbes also named Palm Bay the No. 1 "foreclosure capital" in the country in July, with a year-over-year foreclosure filing increase of 231 percent.
Home prices have actually stumbled recently in Omaha, down nearly 14 percent between September to November compared to the same time period a year earlier. But there are other things that make this market a good prospect for 2013: It has a low vacancy rate and a stronger-than-average job market.
It means that homes stay on the market longer in Chicago, relative to the rest of the country, and sellers often have to cut their prices to the point where they're selling homes for less than they bought them.
In October, Chicago's foreclosure rate posted an 18 percent increase from a year earlier. In the neighborhood of Ashburn, the hardest hit in the city, 1 in 137 homes were in some stage of foreclosure, according to RealtyTrac. None of this bodes well for Chicago's ability to see meaningful recovery in 2013.
The median home asking price and sale price in Peabody has outpaced larger metro areas -- save for the closest one, Boston. A low vacancy rate of 2.4 percent and steady job growth make for a powerful mix and a pretty bright housing outlook for Peabody in 2013.
Most real estate measures were positive for Fort Worth in 2012: Home sales in the Dallas-Fort Worth area jumped 29 percent in October from the same period a year earlier and foreclosure filings dropped 10 percent to the lowest level in a decade.
But there's more: Solid job growth has brought more people to Fort Worth, increasing demand for all types of housing. More than 20,000 apartment building are reportedly under construction as rental costs rise, a new office building was recently purchased for $120 million and the number of houses on the market is at the lowest point in a decade. Sounds like Fort Worth is worth a lot!
Tampa was a driving force behind the jump in foreclosure filings across Florida in November. In Tampa, foreclosure filings were up 40 percent over the same period a year earlier: there were 2,000 new foreclosure cases and 1,000 new bank repossessions.
An uptick in manufacturing jobs is behind the bright real estate outlook in Louisville. In the first 10 months of 2012, the city saw a 2.7 percent rate of job growth, according to 24/7 Wall St.
Louisville also saw mild losses during the housing crisis: home prices only dropped 4.7 percent from their pre-recession peak, putting the city at a much greater advantage over the rest of the country. New construction, however, remains slow.
Even in 2009, as the housing bust was near the height of its horror, Little Rock was named by Forbes as one of the 25 strongest housing markets. That's primarily because home prices in the city never reached the outrageous highs that they did elsewhere in the country -- so they didn't have as far to fall.
But the needle hasn't moved much since then. Very modest gains in home prices have been made each year. In 2012, Little Rock home prices edged up by single-digit percentages. On the brighter side, unemployment in Little Rock dipped to 6.3 percent in October, comfortably below the state's 7.2 percent and the nation's 7.7 percent.
While many metros in Florida saw an upswing in home prices in 2012, Jacksonville was on the opposite track. Jacksonville home prices dropped slightly more than 3 percent over the course of 2012, the Jacksonville Business Journal reported. That made Jacksonville's housing price index the third-worst in the country.
Middlesex County has benefited from strong growth in the Boston market. Job growth has brought flocks of people to Boston, and they, in turn, have fueled housing demand in the suburbs and other areas of Middlesex County. Prices in the area have been making a comeback, too. Click through to read more about the Boston market's strength.
There have been many positive signs for the Las Vegas housing market: List prices climbed 12.4 percent in October from the same period a year earlier, single-family home sales increased 11.9 percent and inventory is tight. But there are two major catches: unemployment and foreclosures.
Though slowly edging down, the Las Vegas unemployment rate stood at 10.4 percent in November, much higher than the national rate. Nevada's overall unemployment rate was at 10.8 percent.
Boston's housing market made strides in 2012: In June, the region's home appreciation rate ranked fifth-highest in the nation, according to the Case-Shiller Home Price Index, with prices rising 2.5 percent month-over-month.
By December, home inventory in the city had dropped 22 percent from the same period a year earlier, and rental prices are among the highest in the nation. The local job market is also one of the best: Monster.com named it the third-hottest job market in 2011, and the unemployment rate was 5.9 percent in September.
The jobs situation in Tucson is also troubling: Though the unemployment rate has been edging down (it was 6.6 percent in November), Inside Tucson Business reported in August that the number of residents in the workforce and the number who actually have jobs is falling, too.
Existing home sales slipped slightly in December. Sales dropped 1% to 4.94 million -- still the second-highest level since November 2009. That puts sales 68% back to normal. Year-over-year, sales were up 13%. The better news is that "distressed" sales (foreclosures and short sales) represent a declining share of overall sales. Excluding distressed sales, "conventional" home sales were up 26% year-over-year in December.
The delinquency-plus-foreclosure rate held steady. In December, 10.61% of mortgages were delinquent or in foreclosure, down a hair from 10.63% in November. The combined delinquency-plus-foreclosure rate is at its lowest level in four years and is 41% back to normal.
Averaging these three back-to-normal percentages together, the housing market is now 52% of the way back to normal, compared with 27% in December 2011. In just the past three months, Trulia's Housing Barometer has jumped 11 points, from 41% in September 2012 to 52% in December 2012. However, the recovery is uneven: In some of the healthiest markets, such as Houston, San Francisco, and Raleigh, N.C., construction is above normal levels and there are few foreclosures left to come. At the same time, in Miami, Chicago, and Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif., construction remains far below normal and there are many foreclosures in the pipeline; in those markets, the recovery is still an uphill climb.
Jed Kolko is the chief economist for online listings site Trulia. This article originally appeared on the Trulia Trends blog.