In addition to the standard E. Rhodes fluff piece that Synthetik posted about on Sunday, there were a couple other articles posted over the weekend that conveyed a general sense of optimism about Seattle's housing market in the coming year. Here are a few choice quotes from Mike Benbow's article in the Everett Herald titled Smiling at the slump:
David Toyer was having Christmas dinner with relatives when one asked him how he felt about the housing market.Mr. Benbow goes to town, throwing all the classic arguments out there. We've got "Seattle is special," "we're running out of land," and of course the ever-popular "Boeing and Microsoft will save us," all in just the first few paragraphs! Never mind the uncomfortable fact that affordability continues to drop like a rock, and there is no evidence that all of these new jobs are paying any better than existing ones. Methinks Mr. Benbow's article is heavy on claims, but light on supporting evidence or critical examination, as usual.
Toyer, a vice president for Barclays Northwest, a major developer in Snohomish County, gets that a lot.
Most people expect him to be down in the dumps, or at least very concerned. That, he said, is because they've been listening to national newscasts about areas of the country where home prices have dropped like a rock or sales have plummeted due to overbuilding.
Indeed, The Associated Press named the rocky housing market the top business-related story of 2006 because of worries that it could push the nation into a recession.
Trouble is, the housing market in the Northwest in general and Snohomish County in specific did well this year and is expected to continue to be strong in 2007.
Toyer is very positive about the housing market for 2007, partly because he's seen the numbers in a study recently conducted for his firm by New Home Trends, a consulting firm in Mill Creek.
"There's no reason to think we will not have a very healthy housing market," he said. "We've got some things here that are different than everywhere else."
One of the unique elements, he said, is a state Growth Management Act that forces developers to build close to cities or within them, a law that is gradually reducing the amount of available land.
Toyer also noted that with hiring at Microsoft, Boeing and many other businesses large and small, most analysts are predicting a good economy in the Seattle area in 2007.
That's attracting people looking for work, and many would like to buy a house, he said.
Justin Matlick takes a more balanced look at Washington's situation in the Puget Sound Business Journal's general state economic outlook for 2007, but the high point of the article is the clever illustration that so delightfully epitomizes the unwavering hope of local housing optimists.
I don't know anyone who has claimed that the housing market around here is "hitting bottom," so I don't really know what point Mr. Matlick was trying to make with that statement. Moving on...With the national economy expected to continue decelerating in 2007, how will Washington state fare?
Illustration: James McFarlane
Click to enlarge
First, the big worry: housing. Economists generally agree that the state's housing market will continue to slow throughout 2007, especially in the Puget Sound region, and a precipitous decline could drag down consumer spending, slow the construction industry and dampen economic growth.
On the bright side, the state's economy is poised to continue growing even as housing slows. Around Puget Sound, a strong international economy will continue fueling demand for key Washington exports such as Boeing airplanes and Microsoft software. Outside the region, economists expect the economy to continue expanding, albeit at a more moderate pace.
While the national housing slowdown has finally hit Washington — in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, the Northwest Multiple Listing Service has reported falling home sales, rising inventories, and slowing home-price appreciation throughout the second half of 2006 — homes in core Puget Sound areas are still logging double-digit price appreciation.
[Union Bank of California senior economist Keitaro] Matsuda said this indicates that the housing market in the Puget Sound region and throughout the state is a long way from hitting bottom.
"It will still take a while before things start to really slow down," Matsuda said.Whoa, hold on a minute there. How is anything "clear" at this point? If anything is clear, it's that the national housing expansion was not "founded on solid economics," because nationwide housing statistics are moving in reverse. Furthermore, Matsuda seems to believe that "hasn't happened," means the same thing as "won't happen," which is something I happen to disagree with.
While Matsuda could not guess exactly how far housing will fall, he did say that it's now clear the national housing expansion has been founded on solid economics, and has not been the bubble many feared.
"If it was a bubble, the markets that experienced the strongest appreciation should also experience the largest price drops, and that hasn't happened," Matsuda said.
For Washington, this means any declines will likely be more moderate than severe, especially since the rest of the state's economy will likely continue growing at a healthy pace, according to Matsuda and [local economist Dick] Conway.So really, the primary argument for optimism comes back to... Microsoft and Boeing. I realize that both of these companies are doing well right now, and I certainly hope it continues to be the case. However, I truly do not believe that the recent positive performance of two companies is enough to hold up our entire region's economy.
I'm not calling for a huge pile of doom and gloom for the Seattle area, but unless the vast majority of the area's new jobs are paying $80k or more, I think that 2007 will see the start of price contractions in Seattle. I think the unaffordability ceiling has been reached.
What about you? Are you generally optimistic about 2007 for the Seattle area housing market? Do you buy the arguments that we're special and will continue to see price gains while more and more cities across the nation experience price declines?
Stay tuned in the next week or so for a more detailed post dedicated to my personal 2007 guesses. Let's keep the comments in this thread focused on these two articles and more general local economic impressions.
(Mike Benbow, Everett Herald, 12.31.2006)
(Justin Matlick, Puget Sound Business Journal, 12.29.2006)