Bubble Babble

Bubble Babble

“Bubble babble” is how Matthew Gardner refers to the increasing speculation that the Puget Sound housing market is heading for a drastic downturn. Gardner is a principal in Gardner Johnson, a Seattle-based land use economics firm that monitors Northwest real estate trends. “It’s a bit like Chicken Little,” he says. “You tell bad news to enough people and they may start believing it.” Gardner’s confidence in the strength of the Puget Sound market is fueled by a number of factors:

1) More people are calling the Puget Sound area home
For the past 20 years, the region has seen steady increases in population each year. Those increases have included years of local economic decline. The area has attracted a well-paid, well-educated workforce—a good foundation for economic growth and, therefore, demand for housing.

2) Local job growth is increasingLast year 47,000 new jobs were created in the area. 33,000 new jobs are projected for 2005 and similar numbers are forecast for 2006. It’s interesting to note that even with the negative employment numbers that accompanied the local dot-com bust era of 2000 to 2003, housing prices during those years still experienced significant appreciation.

3) A limited supply of land keeps demand for housing high
The geography of the Puget Sound area, framed by mountains and water, puts natural constraints on the amount of developable land. The Growth Management Act also limits which land can be developed. Both these factors also serve to restrict the speculative development that is flooding other hot markets. The result? A housing market where demand has continued to exceed supply.

4) For an area of its size, the Puget Sound region is still affordable
Home prices here appreciated 12 percent in 2004 and similar increases are expected for this year. While high, those numbers seem modest when compared to 2004 figures that saw home prices in San Diego shoot up 37 percent and Las Vegas prices soar 52 percent. The median price for a home in San Francisco is $630,000, nearly double what it is in Seattle. In fact, Seattle is actually more affordable than Portland. While the median price for a home is greater in Seattle than Portland ($321,000 vs. $223,000), larger average income levels in Seattle offset the difference in home prices.

5) Real estate is not a liquid asset
Unlike stocks, it takes more than a phone call or key stroke to sell a home. Consequently, the real estate market experiences fewer fluctuations than other types of investments.
If not a bubble, what does Gardner see on the horizon? Puget Sound real estate appreciation has outstripped income growth, so he doesn’t believe the current levels can be sustained. This year is on track to see an increase in home prices of about 12 percent. Gardner anticipates similar appreciation in 2006. After that he expects price escalation to slowly taper off and settle into growth of 4–6 percent per year, which he considers part of the natural flow of the real estate market cycle.
His advice? “If you find something you like and can afford, buy it. Whether it’s $200,000 or $2 million, a house is a major purchase. It should be considered a home first and an investment second.”

Though I didn’t write it….it’s still good stuff. This article was in our Windermere Weekly Publication.

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