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On the House: Agents are upbeat on region's housing for 2015

After 120 installments of my "Town by Town" column in the Sunday Business section, I can state two things without fear of contradiction:

After 120 installments of my "Town by Town" column in the Sunday Business section, I can state two things without fear of contradiction:

First, all real estate is local, local, and local.

Second, no two real estate agents agree unequivocally on the state of the market in which they work. It's one of those glass-half-full/glass-half-empty situations and applies even if the agents work in the same office.

For that reason, I often don't talk to more than two real estate agents per location. If by chance they agree completely, I call a third agent to break the tie, or a fourth. And a builder, if there's home construction going on.

In a typical week, for everything I do, I talk to or e-mail 60 people, about 10 of them agents. So, in effect, I conduct the kinds of surveys for which polling firms are paid big bucks.

My surveys are, of course, about as scientific as the first ones in the 1920s, which contacted all the Smiths in Manhattan who had telephones.

Between Dec. 15 and Jan. 15, Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach Realtors polled 662 of its Philadelphia-area agents on how they believe real estate regionally will have fared when 2015 reaches its conclusion.

If you have been writing about housing since 1967 as I have, you know that real estate, like the weather, defies prediction.

Not surprisingly, 77 percent of respondents said that "now is the time to buy," although I would really like to talk with the 23 percent who disagree.

I know it's a survey, but it does seem somewhat self-defeating. Imagine asking to be shown a house and the agent saying, "I'm sorry, but now isn't the time to buy, so you'll have to wait."

Fifty-five percent of the agents responding said the regional market is progressing faster than the national one. Fifty-six percent said the market would be stronger by year's end.

On that first point, the data show otherwise, with regional recovery continuing to lag the rest of the country, as it always does. This is something we should know by now. Our region never booms as strongly, nor does it fall as hard when the bust comes.

In addition, downturns and recoveries always occur later here than elsewhere in the country.

The real estate recession of 1987 arrived here in 1989-90. Though the rest of the United States had recovered by the mid-1990s, we didn't recover until 2000.

The U.S. market peaked in 2005 and plunged in 2006. For us, it peaked in 2006 and busted in mid-2007. We only began feeling the worst effects in September 2008, after the financial meltdown.

On the second point, we can only hope. Prices bottomed out here in the fall of 2012 and began rising slowly with sales in 2013.

In June 2013, interest rates spiked momentarily, everyone panicked, and the market slowed again.

The winter of 2014 delayed the start of the spring market and hog-tied it with an inventory shortage, but for a while sales and price climbs resumed.

Looser credit brought more low- and middle-income buyers into the market for the first time since the boom years.

Prices rose a modest 0.8 percent region-wide, with the city up 5.1 percent for 2014 but the suburbs 2.8 percent lower. Sales in the city began resembling the days before the market downturn.

Not every village and town is having the same experience. South Jersey is still drowning in foreclosures and repossessions, which tamp down prices.

Less-affluent areas of the city and the Pennsylvania suburbs are struggling to recover even the modest price increases they realized in the boom years.

We'll check back Dec. 31.

If, however, you meet a real estate agent unwilling to show you a house because it isn't time to buy, take his or her name.

And call me.

215-854-2472 @alheavens