Fortune magazine’s Shawn Tully is calling the American residential market bottom, saying Now! is the time to buy. Word of warning: there’s a school of thought that says when Fortune says it’s time to jump on the bandwagon, you may already be too late to get off. (Update: Knight Frank claims the US is only the 7th worst residential market in the world. It also found that the Czech market is the world’s 11th worst resi market! But back to the Fortune article….)
If all the noise you’re hearing about housing has you totally confused, join the crowd. One day you’ll read that owning a home has never been more affordable. The next day you’ll see news that housing starts have plunged to nearly their lowest level in half a century, as headlines announced in March. After four years of falling prices and surging foreclosures, it’s hard to know what to think. Even Robert Shiller and Karl Case can’t agree. The two economists, who together created the widely followed S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price indices, are right now offering sharply contrasting views of housing’s future. Shiller recently warned that the chances were high for a further double-digit drop in U.S. home prices. But in an interview with Fortune, Case took a far brighter view: “The lack of new home building is a huge help that a lot of people are ignoring,” says Case. “People think I’m crazy to be optimistic, but housing is looking like the little engine that could.”
To see where real estate is truly headed, it’s critical to keep your eye firmly on the fundamentals that, over time, always determine the course of prices and construction. During the last decade’s historic run-up in prices, Fortune repeatedly warned that things were moving too fast. In a cover story titled “Is the Housing Boom Over?,” this writer’s analysis found that the basic forces that govern the market — the cost of owning vs. renting and the level of new construction — were in bubble territory. Eventually reality set in, and prices plummeted. Our current view focuses on those same fundamentals — only now they’re pointing in the opposite direction.
So let’s state it simply and forcibly: Housing is back.