Housing 2009 Forecasts Mixed, But Mostly Grim

Buyers will fare better than owners or sellers in months to come

Don't expect to party like it's 1999, but the residential real estate market in 2009 offers a few goodie bags for certain buyers, investors and others who get in for the long haul.

On the other hand, the immediate housing outlook is grim, according to two new reports forecasting what's to come for housing in America.

First up, Urban Land Institute's (ULI) "Emerging Trends In Real Estate 2009" advises not to expect housing prices to bottom until late 2009, but concedes even that could be a tall order.

The report surmises a 2009 bottom will arrive only if a host of conditions converge: the bulk of distressed properties move through the system; lenders loosen the purse strings; interest rates remain affordable; and job and wage gains ensue.

"Expect a slow, lurching recovery," according to the report, a joint venture between ULI and PricewaterhouseCoopers. The report, in its 30th year, is a consensus of more than 700 professionals in the field who completed surveys or were interviewed or both.

"We need to move back to pricing levels from 2003-2004 before a floor establishes."

In terms of housing development, the report sums it up in two words: "Ha. Ha." Those are the actual words in the report, which does go on to suggest buyers and sellers can enjoy success if they pay close attention to three other words, "location, location, location."

ULI says homes closer to commercial cores, which are typically of the higher-density variety than single-family homes, will out perform many others because many buyers and current owners will downsize or buy small to save money.

"People realize they don't need 3,000 square feet and four cars anymore," the report says.

Likewise, smaller home values will get a boost from stepped-up reverse flight back to city cores. It's a flight for the convenience of nearby services and proximity to transit. Builders will continue to have a tough time finding financing for all projects, but increased density housing developments, including infill and mixed-use projects, "sit in the sweet spot." This will be particularly true in the Sunbelt States.

For investors, the report also says buying a distressed condo at the right price in urban areas near transit hubs and then converting it to a rental could be a profitable strategy.

Master planned communities, on the other hand, are out.

ULI says the outer-ring suburban and exurban areas will suffer most due to property size, transportation costs and back-to-town flight.

"McMansion subdivisions in the sticks take a double whammy. Rising heating/cooling bills for expensive homes work against sellers already struggling to over come resistance to car commuting expenses," according to ULI.

Another, yet-to-be published report, paints a similarly spotty immediate future for housing.

"We have been able to decipher a number of trends that will begin to mature in 2009, but there are several whose impact will be critical for the industry," say real estate research guru Stefan Swanepoel, previewing his yet-to-be published "Swanepoel Real Estate TRENDS Report 2009."

With Swanepoel on point, the report is a compilation of research from the RETrends.com staff who also scour input from 50 industry contributors.

Among the trends:

? Good news for brokers who weather the storm. Next year will so challenge real estate and mortgage brokers, those who survive will gain unparalleled market experience that will catapult them to the position of standard bearers in customer service, says Swanepoel.

? Good news for buyers. Not so much for owners and sellers. In 2009, housing will become even more affordable, but only at the expense of those who purchased homes at the peak of the market (especially in a bidding war) and must endure at least another year of home price declines.

? In some markets, including Silicon Valley, where prices have plummeted, investors are already back scooping up repossessed residences, short sales and auctioned homes. Swanepoel says investors will return in droves as first-time and move-up home buyers sit it out waiting for the bottom of the housing market which may not materialize until after 2009.

Says Swanepoel, "In light of one of the most economically volatile years we have seen since I have been researching and reporting on the trends affecting the real estate industry, looking deep into 2009 for some semblance of an emerging course for the industry has been extremely challenging -- 2009 will be pivotal."

Broderick Perkins parlayed 30 years of old-school journalism into a digital real estate news service, the DeadlineNews Group, offering "News that really hits home!"?. The Silicon Valley bootstrap includes the Web site DeadlineNews.Com and the back shop Deadline Newsroom. Contact him at news@deadlinenews.com.

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