Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview

Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview
Overview of Fayetteville, AR

Sunday, February 18, 2007

4th Quarter Skyline Report Released on NW Arkansas Housing Market

This past week the Skyline Report for the 4th Quarter of 2006 was released. Announced at a breakfast sponsored by Arvest Bank for Realtors®, developers, and others on Tuesday, February 13, Kathy Deck (Interim Director for the Center for Business and Economic Research) summarized the trends as presented by the data for the 4th quarter of 2006.

The Skyline Report is an economic summary of the real estate market in NW Arkansas, prepared for Arvest Bank by the Center for Business and Economic Research of the Sam Walton School of Business at the University of Arkansas. As Realtors®, we are very fortunate to have this kind of statistical analysis available to us, since it provides scientifically prepared data which confirms our sometimes-anecdotal experience of the real estate market.

The 4th quarter summary provided some interesting statistics. For the past several years, the results have revealed a tendency of builders and developers to build too many homes, especially expensive homes, which are now sitting on the market. However, this report showed some changes in this behavior, which I would interpret as positive indicators for the NW Arkansas housing market. But there was bad news as well as good news, depending on whether one lives or does business in Washington or Benton County.

According to Kathy Deck, the number of building permits drawn in Benton County has “fallen off a cliff,” particularly in Rogers. They were significantly down in the 4th quarter of 2006. For the housing market as a whole, this was a very necessary step because of the extreme oversupply of homes available in Benton County. The result has been that the number of complete but unoccupied homes in Benton County fell for the first time in many quarters, while the annual absorption rate continued to grow. This means that homes on the market are being purchased by people continuing to move into the area. There are still homes being built but at a slower pace, and employment growth continues at over 600 new jobs per month, which bodes well for continued absorption of homes. Another positive factor is that the price point of the permits pulled indicates a recognition of the need for more affordable housing. In Benton County this was for homes between $100,000 and $150,000 (not including the value of the land).

The data for Washington County, on the other hand, posed some warning signals. Although the number of building permits for Washington County was also down, and the number of homes under construction in active subdivisions was also down, the number of complete but unoccupied homes in Washington County continued to rise, while the absorption rate fell slightly. This means that homes currently on the market will take somewhat longer to sell, compared to Benton County. And with regard to the price point of permits pulled, the price point during the 4th quarter of 2006 was between $150,000 to $200,000 (not including land), which means that more expensive homes are still being built, despite a somewhat inflated supply already available in Washington County.

What this means for buyers is that it is a very good time to purchase a home, since interest rates are still low and there is a lot of housing inventory to choose from, especially if the buyer wants to purchase a new home. For sellers (including builders of new homes) this means that buyers are now calling the shots, so sellers need to price their homes competitively. Conditions are still “worse” in Benton County than in Washington County for builders with a lot of new unsold homes.

Some of the statistics of the report summary include:

1. There were 21,037 lots in the 301 active subdivisions in NW Arkansas in the 4th quarter, up from the previous quarter. Using the most recent annual absorption rate, the supply of remaining lots in those active subdivisions is sufficient for 47.0 months (almost 4 years worth).

2. In the 4th quarter of 2006, there were 2551 complete but unoccupied houses, compared to 2956 in the 3rd quarter. Benton County experienced a decline of 25.5% in available complete inventory from the 3rd quarter of 2006, but an increase of 92.4% in available complete inventory from the 4th quarter of 2005. This is to be compared with the 3rd quarter increase if 229% increase in inventory between the 3rd quarter of 2005 and 2006. In comparison, Washington County experienced a 28.1% inventory increase over the past quarter and a cumulative increase of 33.4% over the past year.

3. From August 16 to November 15, 2006, there were 1784 existing houses sold in Benton and Washington Counties. This is a decline of 21.1% from the same time period in 2005. Even as recently as the 3rd quarter, the decline (compared to the 3rd quarter of 2005) was only 3.1%. What that means is that home sales during the 3rd quarter of 2006 continued relatively stable, while in the 4th quarter the number of home sales declined significantly.

4. In the 4th quarter of 2006 in NW Arkansas, the average sales price of existing houses declined from 4th quarter 2005 levels by 4.5% in Washington County (compared to a continued increase of 2.3% in the 3rd quarter). In Benton County the average sales price continued to climb by 8.0%. .

5. There were an additional 19,811 residential lots that have been at least preliminarily approved in NW Arkansas. Adding these proposed lots to those in active subdivisions yields a whopping 114.8 months of inventory in NW Arkansas (that’s 9.6 years for those who don’t want to do the math).

6. Surprisingly, although construction is down, in terms of employment in NW Arkansas the Construction sector continued to have the highest growth rate. Manufacturing lost jobs, while all other sectors increased. The 2nd highest sector was Professional and Business services, while 3rd was Health and Educational services. Other sectors grew more slowly.

So what does this all mean for buyers and sellers of homes?

As with my analysis of the previous, 3rd quarter 2006 report, the same trends apply. If no new subdivisions are approved, even in the ones already approved and underway, there are a lot of homes out there, ready for sale—over 4 years worth in active subdivisions and almost 10 years worth in additional subdivisions already approved if these are built out. Economists might see the drop in new building permits as a negative factor, but I see it as an indication that builders and developers are finally getting smart and putting on the brakes to conform to the current reality. A further aspect of this data means that many of the approved subdivisions may not get built out quickly, given the supply of already finished homes on the market now.

Home prices as a whole are not going down, at least in Benton County. There may be some individual sellers who had their homes priced too high (from the recent seller’s market) and have adjusted them to current market conditions (a buyer’s market). But although home values are not increasing at the double digits of the past several years, there is still appreciation taking place. In Washington County, however, home prices have come down. What this means for buyers still sitting on the fence is that a significant adjustment has already taken place. It may continue into the present quarter, but I would foresee that by the time the good weather hits during the 2nd quarter of this year, prices will begin to go up again as more buyers hit the streets.

All in all, the “sky is NOT falling”, and I see the outlook for the NW Arkansas housing market as positive. Contrary to the national media hype, what’s happening in California and elsewhere is not happening here, and buyers seem to realize this. Anecdotally, business has been picking up despite the bad weather, and because inventory is still high, buyers have a lot to choose from. But because of the overbuilding as indicated by the Skyline report, some of those high-ticket homes may continue to sit for awhile.

One thing I should mention is that that Skyline Report is a phenomenal undertaking. What the Center for Business and Economic Research does is obtain data from the different cities about subdivision approvals, building permits, etc. Then they send out university students to physically examine what is happening on each lot in active subdivisions. They note whether lots are vacant, started (i.e. a slab), under construction, finished but not occupied, or occupied homes. The center also examines data from the NW Arkansas Multiple Listing Service as to home sales data and prices for homes, i.e. average and median prices for different areas

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