Where has the real estate recovery gone?
I don't usually start a column with a question, but it seems appropriate in this instance. The data I receive and the anecdotes I gather in the front lines indicate that the market slowdown that began in the third quarter has continued into the fourth.
Remember, the observation does not apply to all localities. In some desirable locations where the supply is low, those houses priced properly for the market are selling, in some cases rapidly.
Generally, though, the turnaround we were being promised has not appeared, and some of those in the know are concerned about 2014.
John Burns, a California-based real estate consultant, headlined his Nov. 26 report "Housing Outlook 2014: Holding Our Breath."
The last three months - he is referring to September, October, and November - "have been characterized by slowing sales and a rising percentage of greedy sellers dropping price to generate activity."
Burns calls some sellers greedy "because none of them envisioned one year ago that they would be asking so much for their house today. This also sounds a lot better than price declines."
According to Burns, slowing sales have had three causes:
Sticker shock caused by significant price increases in the spring (much more significant in the West and South than in the North and East).
Rising mortgage rates in June - more than a percentage point in one instance.
Economic fright caused by our leaders in Washington in September and October.
I have no firm opinion on number three, and there are some other analysts maintaining that the discord on Capitol Hill had no discernible effect on the real estate market.
Burns said that before the current slowdown, "I was expressing extreme concern that the market was getting overheated, as I was seeing flippers [and hard money debt available to flippers] reemerge."
The slowdown, Burns said, should temper flipping.
For actual data to support Burns' observation, I'll turn to CoreLogic's October report on home prices, which states that although values increased 12.2 percent year-over-year, the month saw just a 0.4 percent rise from September.
CoreLogic's analysis suggests the same small price climb in November.
The housing market "appears to be catching its breath as we head into the final months of 2013," said Anand Nallathambi, CoreLogic's president and CEO.
"The deceleration in month-on-month trends was anticipated as strong gains in home prices over the spring and summer slow in line with normal seasonal patterns and the impact of higher mortgage interest rates," he said.
October was not anything to write home about in the sales department, at least nationally.
Pending sales - the indicator of future market health - fell nationally in October for the fifth consecutive month, said the National Association of Realtors.
"We could rebound a bit from this level, but still face the headwinds of limited inventory and falling affordability conditions," said Lawrence Yun, the Realtors' chief economist.
"Job creation and a slight dialing down from current stringent mortgage underwriting standards going into 2014 can help offset the headwind factors," Yun said.
As we've learned, the market rarely behaves as the experts expect it to.
The holiday season has never been big for real estate sales, however.
A better picture of the 2014 real estate market is likely to emerge when Super Bowl Sunday is done.