U.S. Housing Recovery

According to a well-known gauge of the U.S. housing market, home prices have been on an upswing. The latest S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Home Price Index, which was released in May, posted its biggest gain in seven years. This improvement has spurred renewed optimism about housing’s role in the country’s economic recovery.

What does the latest S&P/Case-Shiller home price index reveal about home prices?
The 20-city index–one of several S&P/Case-Shiller housing indices–showed a 10.9% gain between March 2012 and March 2013, the highest increase since 2006. In addition, all 20 cities tracked by the index had gains for three straight months.

While the numbers certainly give homeowners and real estate investors cause to be optimistic, it’s important to note that not all cities saw the same price increases. Both San Francisco and Phoenix saw large price jumps of more than 20%. However, New York and Boston had smaller gains of 2.6% and 6.7%, respectively.

What factors are driving the recovery, and what do rising home prices mean for the economy as a whole?
A variety of factors are driving home prices up, such as low housing inventory, low mortgage rates, and a decline in foreclosures/short sales.

As for the economy as a whole, rising home prices often serve as an indicator that the economy is performing better since it generally demonstrates increased consumer confidence. And while this latest report is good news for homeowners looking to sell, it also provides welcome news to underwater homeowners who may now see an increase in their home equity.

It is important to note, however, that other economic data–such as the large number of institutional investors buying properties to rent–suggests that there is still a ways to go in terms of a full-fledged housing recovery.

Could this all lead to another housing bubble?
Today’s economic environment is different than the one that led to the housing bubble burst in 2006. Those differences include a tighter mortgage lending environment and houses that are still undervalued at prices that are significantly lower than they were at their 2006 peak.