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AZ Housing Market...Buyer's Market or Seller's Market?

I have started to see a few writers claim that Phoenix is becoming a buyer's market. I think this is a huge stretch. It is possible that we have forgotten what a buyer's market really feels like. We have seen a noticeable downturn in demand but that alone does not constitute a buyer's market.

In a buyer's market, supply is higher than demand and currently we still have very low supply and little sign of a significant increase on the horizon. The weaker demand is still more than enough to match the current level of supply. Consequently sales prices still upwards momentum, although this has eased a little since last spring.

I also hear talk of lower prices, but this talk is not referring to closed sales prices. It refers to the fact that many sellers are adjusting their expectations and bringing list prices more in line with market conditions. This is not resulting in closed prices going lower than last year, as we would expect in a true buyer's market. In fact the average price per sq. ft. for listings under contract continues to hit new highs.

We have become used to a hot, growing market that strongly favors sellers and now that it is cooler, contracting in volume and moderately favoring sellers, we have a tendency to over-react and make more of the change than it really deserves. We have to stay calm and realistic and be guided by the numbers. These numbers look like a cooling off, not a downturn. We experienced a similar, though more severe, cooling off in 2013-2014, but the last significant downturn took place between late 2005 and 2009 and was followed by a 2 stage recovery from 2009 through 2013. There was also a mini-downturn in 2010-2011 which interrupted the recovery but had little lasting significance in hindsight.

There has been no decrease in loan approval rates and buyers have little to stop them apart from their own desires and perceptions. Many appear to think the current state of the market will mean lower prices for them if they wait to buy later. In this, they are very likely mistaken, but it will take time for them to realize this. Population growth in Central Arizona is still increasing faster than the number of homes. Despite a less friendly tax code since 2017, owning a home still makes better financial sense than renting unless you expect to own the home for less than 3 years. None of the conditions for closed prices to fall are currently in effect.

It seems more likely that demand will come back up, rather than more supply will appear out of nowhere. It is certainly possible that new facts come into play (e.g. interest rates) which could change the picture, but most measurements that impact the housing market are in normal to good ranges. Affordability has dropped below the ideal range but compared with neighboring California, we are amazingly affordable. 2019 is very unlike the situation in 2005, when almost every number was highly unusual and flashing danger signals, even though most of the population chose to ignore them.

As in most things, the numbers are more reliable that emotions. We will continue to report the natural numbers without adding any artificial ingredients.


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