Nationally, the housing market continues to show signs of further retreat as home prices slide and as additional homeowners find themselves owing more on their homes than what they’re currently worth. However, national numbers are usually a poor indicator of what is going on locally with some markets performing far better or far worse than the national average.
Uncovering the Truth
The truth about your local housing market can sometimes be difficult to uncover. Media reporters are often alarmists, feeding gloom and doom reports to a readership, people who hang on to their every word. Oftentimes there is an agenda present, one that seeks to undermine the political establishment.
Real estate agents may come from an opposite vantage point, acting as eternal optimists who are eager to trumpet the smallest bit of positive news even when that news is virtually meaningless. Many agents want you to buy and sell real estate, but it isn’t always a good time to sell especially when you don’t have to and the market is sliding.
To uncover what is happening locally means doing your homework, conducting wise and sensible research that drills down to what is happening in your county, your town and ultimately your neighborhood. Yes, this market is extremely localized with some communities faring far better than others despite what is going on just a few miles away.
How should you begin? There are a number of resources to examine — alone, none of which can represent an accurate picture of your market, but when considered with other factors you can find out is really going on and respond accordingly.
Zillow.com — This website offers all kind of local data including which homes in your neighborhood are currently on the market, which ones recently sold and includes information about foreclosures. As you might guess, foreclosures are the “boogie boo” of this market, pulling down home values especially when you learn of several in your neighborhood. Don’t take Zillow’s “zestimate” or estimate of your home’s current value as set in stone — as the company tends to err on the side of caution when offering a valuation. Visit Zillow.com for more information.
RealtyTrac.com — At first glance, RealtyTrac can look depressing as foreclosures are prominently displayed in red on the front page. Type in your zip code and you’ll retrieve a wealth of local data, information that is sometimes more detailed than what you’ll find on Zillow. Review the “bank owned properties” and homes in “pre-foreclosure” and compare that information with other listings and you’ll get a clearer picture of what is taking place in your area. RealtyTrac also offers your home’s “estimated value” which is generally higher than what Zillow publishes. Subscribe to a “free trial” to find a detailed list of foreclosures in your area, useful for the person who wants to snap up bank owned property. Visit RealtyTrac.com for more information.
Tax Assessor — You may already know that your local tax assessor’s office is the best place to go for local housing information. The reason is simple: both Zillow and RealtyTrac cull tax assessor databases to determine local values. However, that information is usually weeks behind which means that a trend may be reported late, costing you money especially if you need to refinance your home. Property reports are public information; you have a right to find out what is going on. You may have to make an appointment to review the records and be kind to the clerk — she just may be able to illuminate something else that is going on in your area like a new employer seeking to relocate, bringing hundreds of transferees along who will be in the market to buy a house.
Planning Meetings — If you really want to find out what is going on locally, then attend town council meetings, including planning board meetings. Any changes proposed locally will be discussed. If you can’t attend meetings, many communities broadcast them via your local cable service. Some have podcasts on town websites. Listen for discussions about raising taxes, fixing roads, upgrading schools or other changes that impact home values. Yes, council members will speak about the economy and offer their thoughts on trends, information that isn’t always published. Attend your community association meetings too — find out what the housing trends are in your neighborhood.
Finally, keep your pulse on neighborhood happenings especially if you’re planning to sell your home in 2012 or beyond. Your neighbors may offer a perspective you hadn’t seen before or tip you off about a trend no one else has seen coming.
What is Your Home Value: