The closely-watched Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index of home prices in 20 large U.S. cities is up for another month. In fact, for all the 20 cities, prices have ticked up 12.2 percent year-over-year (the figures are for May).
Even more surprisingly, home prices in Denver and Dallas are at new all-time highs for those cities -- that is, they've surpassed prices at the peak of the housing bubble. That's only true in those two cities -- for the whole index prices have reached 2004 levels. Denver and Dallas didn't have the same meteoric price rise as places like Southern Florida, Arizona and Nevada, and they didn't crash as hard when the bubble burst, either.
Several Sunbelt and Western cities are up 20 percent or more in the May Case-Shiller report, including prices in San Francisco, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix.
Economist David Blitzer, at S&P, says this level of increase isn’t sustainable long-term. He says the graph of home prices we're seeing now looks a lot like the steepness in the years right before the bubble burst from the early to mid-2000s. But Blitzer says as long as mortgages aren't underwritten carelessly, going to anyone who can ‘say hello,’ we’re not at risk of a bubble-bust cycle like we've just been through.
Also, Sunbelt cities may be roaring back because they faced a double whammy in the recession. Not only did home prices fall hard, but real estate and homebuilding were major growth engines of the local economy. That wasn't the case in the Upper Midwest or New England, for instance.
We also got the U.S. Census Bureau's report onU.S. homeownership for Q2 2013. The overall rate is down from a peak of 69 percent in 2004, to 65 percent now. Capital Economics predicts the rate will fall by next year to 64 percent. This is close to historic trend (the rate averaged 64 percent from1965-1995), so maybe we shouldn’t lament the decline, too much — after all, some of the poorer, worse-qualified borrowers who got mortgages in the 2000s to push the homeownership rate up, probably should never have owned homes to begin with.
On the other hand, advocates for home ownership say it is one of the best and only ways for lower-income Americans, immigrants and minorities to build equity and wealth.