Expect tremors to keep shaking the real estate market along multiple fault lines in 2008. Here are the winners and losers in the housing category:
UP MARKETS: As a whole, the national housing market will finally hit bottom - and start bouncing back - at the end of 2008, says Celia Chen, director of housing economics at Economy.com, a subsidiary of the financial rating agency Moody's. But more than a dozen major metro areas are already ahead of the curve, enjoying modest but significant price appreciation.
Markets such as Atlanta, Austin, and Dallas didn't draw enough speculators to skew prices during the housing boom. Yet they boast sufficient employment and income growth to increase demand for housing. Mobile, Ala., surprisingly, is poised to be a top performer in this group of metros: In recent years it's seen only a trickle of new housing but is currently booming thanks to billions of dollars worth of new mega-projects.
WHAT IT MEANS: Small-business owners in these regions will still be able to tap home-equity loans for funds, or won't face calls on existing loans from banks because of declining values.
DOWN MARKETS: The regions that will likely lag the national recovery are Phoenix, Las Vegas, south Florida, and California's Central Valley. Although publicly traded home builders packed these areas with inventory, prices soared beyond reason thanks to easy credit and an abundance of speculators who never intended to occupy the homes they bought.
In some cases the inventory glut will take years to clear, even at heavily discounted prices. Phoenix currently offers about 55,000 listings, the highest in the Arizona capital's history, in addition to an estimated 15,000 spec houses.
"Builders have now dropped new three-bedroom, single-family homes as low as $130,000," says Frank Owens, a local real estate analyst and headhunter for the home-building industry. "That's unheard of. The lowest we'd see a year ago was $200,000."
WHAT IT MEANS: In these cities stagnation equals opportunity for entrepreneurs: Because a big slice of the local labor force was employed in the broader housing sector, the downturn has shaken loose many workers who are desperate for a new gig and not so picky about pay.