Promising signs in Santa Fe’s housing market

Santa Fe housing sales drop, but experts see opportunity to right an upside-down market

When Realtor Lois Sury went to buy her first home in Santa Fe some time ago, there were about five houses in her price range and she was competing against other buyers. That “hyper market,” as she called it, was not good for consumers, who had few choices to consider and a heavy burden to overcome to get into a first home.

Those days are gone in Santa Fe, perhaps for a long time. Market data indicate that the number of residential home sales in 2009 was at the lowest point in decades, in terms of the number of transactions and the price volume of those sales.

The statistics have been compiled by Alan Ball, a title agent who publishes a monthly newsletter on the Santa Fe real estate market. They show that the real estate meltdown is more about the industry and Santa Fe’s economy than the habits or wishes of individual homeowners.

Median prices for instance, have held up considerably well in Santa Fe, starting in 2001 at $296,000 and ending in 2009 at $447,000. That’s a more than 50 percent jump.

But the total dollar amount of residential sales shows that volume peaked at $1.2 billion in 2004-05, then tumbled to $540 million in the year just ended, a decline of 56 percent. The dollar volume of all sales in 2009 was even less than the $578 million generated nine years ago.

“That’s money not circulating in the community,” Ball said. “If you look at local Realtors, lenders, surveyors, appraisers, insurance agents — if you just start piling up all the things that directly relate to the sale of a home — it’s money not changing hands. And that affects anybody that sells goods or services. There’s less discretionary income.”

In terms of charting sales numbers, the last nine years shape a modified bell curve. Total residential sales in 2001 ended at 1,955. They climbed to 2,800 in 2005, but by 2009 had tumbled to 1,200 — significantly less than the number at the start of the decade, Ball said.

But turn over a troubling bell curve, and you get a smiley face. Ball and others see opportunity in that option.

Michael Halsey, an economic consultant and owner of Business Futures, said Santa Fe’s housing market has always been unsustainable, like an upside-down pyramid, and now there is a chance to right the foundation.

Everywhere else, communities build housing from the bottom up, with young or first-time buyers getting into less expensive homes and trading up as needed for more amenities or space. And there should be more less expensive homes being built than luxury properties.

Not so in Santa Fe, Halsey said, where the market for luxuries and second homes had long been driving the construction market. Craftsmen, builders, architects — and the labor they hired — were so busy with new high-end products, there was nothing else being built. The result was a small selection of homes for people living and working in Santa Fe who could not afford million-dollar and up houses.

“The community was supporting an industry that I felt was top-heavy as far as top-end products,” he said. “We are just now starting to fulfill the demand for entry-level housing, that hasn’t been met in past years.”

Halsey cited the more affordable new homes in Rancho Viejo as an example of how the market has adjusted. The houses are being constructed with basic finishes, but leave room for expansion and upgrades as families need them. The cost of new construction, Halsey said, has dropped in Santa Fe about 20 percent.

Sury, president of the Santa Fe Association of Realtors, said the homebuyer tax credit is already helping to expand the pyramid and is bringing out new buyers who, in the future, can trade up as their homes increase in value. A whole new generation of Santa Fe residents have a chance to get on the escalator of home appreciation, she said.

And though it’s been a slow year for sales, Sury said consumers are far more confident now than a year ago, when the stock market crashed and financial institutions were failing.

“At this time last year we were in a much worse situation than we are now. It was much bleaker. Consumers seem to have more confidence now,” she said.

Adding to the confidence is the fact that the federal tax credit for home purchases has been extended until mid-2010 and is also available to repeat buyers who want to move. In Santa Fe there are now plenty of affordable homes all over the city and not just in certain neighborhoods.

“Five years ago, we were seeing multiple offers and homes under contract in two or three days. Buyers had little or no power,” Ball said. “Now we’re seeing more balance on the lower end.”

There needs to be a solid year of sales and price gains before anyone can call an end to the housing recession. But people still want to move to Santa Fe, and many people already here want to move to a different house or change neighborhoods, he added.

“I cannot escape the attraction Santa Fe has for so many people, Ball said. “We’re going to warm up faster than other markets. I don’t know if we’re out of this thing or not, but there are promising signs.”

The National Association of Home Builders has information about the homebuyers tax credit at federalhousingtaxcredit.com.

By: Bruce Krasnow |

Source: The New Mexican

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