After being among the national leaders in rising home values for much of this decade, Salt Lake City is now tasting the downside of the real estate cycle, according to figures released Wednesday.
Median resale prices for previously owned homes in the Salt Lake metro area moved up only 2.8 percent in the second quarter to $130,900, well below the double-digit increases cheered by sellers - but booed by first-time buyers - in past years.The median is the point at which half of the homes sold for more and half for less.
Salt Lake's second-quarter ap-preciation in home values was well below the 7.5 percent rise for the West region and even the 6.0 percent increase for the nation overall, according to figures compiled by the National Association of Realtors in Washington, D.C.
That national increase, considerably higher than the overall rate of inflation in consumer prices, which was just 1.7 percent, should help boost consumer confidence at a time when the stock market downturn of the past four weeks has eroded it.
The median home price nationwide reached $131,100 in the second quarter, up 6 percent from a year ago and only $800 below the Salt Lake median price.
Do the local figures mean Salt Lake is in a serious housing recession compared to the rest of the country? No way, said Stephen Frahm, executive director of the Salt Lake Board of Realtors.
"This is not an unhealthy market. We're not facing disaster," said Frahm. "There's been a leveling off, but it's not a sign that anything's wrong."
Frahm said the weak increase in prices locally has been occurring for the past 18 months and represents little more than a "flattening out" after years of big increases.
Part of the reason for the small rise in existing home prices locally is that builders are continuing to add new inventory at a fairly brisk pace, said Frahm, homes that are more expensive and thus don't create a lot of new buyers. Instead, those new homes motivate existing homeowners to move up, but they still have to sell their own homes first.
Also, said Frahm, the end of the California recession has greatly reduced the numbers of people moving to Utah and buying homes here. "We were really benefiting from the bad times in California," said Frahm, but now the West Coast exodus has slowed and so have local home sales.
During the second quarter it took 63 days to sell a home over the Salt Lake Multiple Listing Service, which includes new as well as existing homes. The figure is calculated by counting th days between the listing and the signing of a sales contract.
The local MLS underwent a major upgrade of computer systems this year, leaving many sales agents and brokers complaining they couldn't access the system for their clients.
Frahm said there are still problems to be worked out but that the system is working better now.
"I think people are now able to get their work done. They're not satisfied yet, but they're more confident than before."
The national association figures show that the markets with the highest median prices in the nation were San Francisco, $329,400, followed by Honolulu, $305,000, and Orange County, Calif., $261,500.
The lowest prices were in Ocala, Fla., $69,100; Waterloo, Iowa, $71,500; and El Paso, Texas, $75,200.
According to economists, the healthy gains in home values could help offset the threat to consumer confidence from the stock market's Asia-inspired turmoil, though by itself home value appreciation wouldn't be enough to offset a true stock crash.
Despite the stock markets' strong gains in recent years and the proliferation of 401 and IRA accounts, people have almost as much of their wealth tied up in their homes as in stocks. In 1997, real estate represented about 27 percent and stocks, 28 percent, according to the Federal Reserve.
Only nine metro areas reported price declines in the quarter. The worst came in Trenton, N.J., where the median dropped 5.4 percent to $135,400; Albany, N.Y., down 3.9 percent to $103,200; and Canton, Ohio, down 2.1 percent to $92,400.
However, 23 cities reported gains of 10 percent or better. They were led by Charleston, S.C., up 19.7 percent to $121,100; San Francisco, up 16.6 percent to $329,400; and Bradenton, Fla., also up 16.6 percent, to $104,900.