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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

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11/29/2012 11:06:00 AM
Home prices in Arizona climb sharply

Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- The coiled spring of home prices has finally sprung.

New figures Tuesday show that the price of an average home sold in Arizona during the third quarter of this year shot up more than 20 percent from the same time in 2011. That not only tops the list nationwide but is at least twice as high as the rate of increase of any other state -- and five times as high as the national average.

In the last quarter alone, prices in Arizona posted a 5.4 percent increase.

The actual increase in what all homes are worth, though, is a bit smaller.

That calculation by the Federal Housing Finance Agency is made by computing not just changes in sales price but also looking at the value of homes when they are appraised at the time of refinancing. Factoring in that number trims the overall year-over-year increase in Arizona home values to just 6.1 percent.

And even that figure is not reflective of the state as a whole.

Home values continue to climb sharply in the Phoenix metro area, which includes Maricopa and Pinal counties. But several counties, including Pima, Coconino and Yuma, still are struggling to bring values into positive territory.

But economist Michael Orr of the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, said the recovery situation for pure home price remains brighter than the rest of the nation, if for no other reason than the market had fallen so far.

"We took much more of a hit in pricing than almost anywhere else,' he said. "So it's reasonable to expect the sharp bounce back.'

Orr calls it the "coiled spring theory.'

"We wound up, by prices being so low, that when the market does recover it was bound to be a very sharp bounce back,' he said.

Orr said he foresees continued price increases -- but nowhere like what has showed up more recently.

"We can't keep going up at 2 percent per month,' he said.

So if sales prices are increasing at double-digit rates, why aren't all home values following suit?

Andrew Leventis, principal economist for the federal agency, said there's no simple answer to that, "some of which we haven't fully investigated.'

Some of it, he said, may have to do with which homeowners are taking advantage of the low interest rates to refinance. Leventis said if the new loans are occurring in areas of a community where real estate values remain distressed, then there will not be much change in the value of their homes from when it was first purchased.

He also said that appraisals done on homes being refinanced may be coming in too low. And that, in turn, drags down the overall index.

By contrast, the index based on sales prices is much simpler: How has the price of a house changed from when they were previously sold.

Orr said it is not surprising that home values have not bounced as much outside of the Phoenix area.

He said home prices had slid so sharply in and around Phoenix that it became an investor's paradise. Orr said they realized that the rock-bottom sales prices presented a huge opportunity for a profit with little risk.

"Tucson didn't go down as fast and it hasn't got as much to bounce back,' he said. And he said Tucson is on a "delayed cycle' of both its downturn and the factors driving recovery.

"There aren't as many investors pouring into the market as we had over the last two years in Phoenix,' he said.

"I think they're on the road to recovery,' Orr continued of the Tucson area. "They're just on a more gentle track than Phoenix.'

And Orr said the housing market is "quite different,' with a large percentage of the real estate being second homes for those living elsewhere.

Even with the latest good news, the report still shows Arizona has a long way to go to recover: Homes are still selling for at least a third less than they were just five years ago. And overall values -- sales plus refinancings -- are about what they were in 2003.

The FHFA indexes are designed to factor out sharp adjustments based on what just happens to sell in a given quarter by looking at only repeat sales or refinancings on the same single-family properties. Nationwide, the sales price only index is based on more than 6 million repeat transactions; the broader index including refinancings has data from more than 46 million such deals.

Both indexes are based on data obtained from federally backed mortgages going back 37 years.

While Arizona led the pack, the report shows other states in the region also with strong gains in home prices.

Nevada posted an 8.7 percent year-over-year increase, with Utah a tenth of a point behind. California prices went up 7.2 percent.

But New Mexico weighed in with an anemic 1.5 percent annual change in prices.

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