One of two things will happen, and possibly both. Banks may start releasing more inventory in the coming months, and home prices could begin to rise as inventory levels drop off.

Listing Inventory
SW Florida Residential Single Family Home Listing Inventory

We’ve been noticing a distinct pattern the past few months. Inventory levels have been dropping just as pending sales have been increasing. We can thank the banks for this as they’ve withheld inventory due to legal concerns over title and the foreclosure process. We’ve also seen an increase in closed short sales. Lastly, we’ve seen a rise in regular sales, all leading to a decline in inventory levels. County-wide levels were down 4.32% from last month, and yet we’re seeing sharper declines like Cape Coral which had a 7.18% drop, or Lehigh Acres which experienced a 10.22% drop in available listings.

Combine this with season and buyers from up North scooping up bargains and it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that home prices have to rise. In fact, we predict they already are. Last month’s numbers showed a drop in prices, but we’re not too concerned with that. Next week official numbers will be released and we believe they will be higher. Sales may be down from last year because the inventory isn’t there, but prices could very well be up. We wouldn’t be surprised to see prices gain close to 10% from last year’s numbers.

If you read this article weekly, or our blog, you know that we’ve been predicting a decline in sales transactions combined with price increases at some point in the future. That point could be now. We would say definitively, however there are still some external wildcards that can influence transaction volume and prices in the short term.

Those wildcards are banks releasing backlogged inventory once the title issues are worked out, and every indication is banks will start releasing again in the next month or so. The question is how much do they have left in SW Florida. We believe nationwide there is much left, however nobody knows about SW Florida as we’ve been in this crisis the better part of 4 years now. Possibly we’ll emerge as the rest of the country deepens, but something tells me we still have more to work through as well.

Other wildcards include the US economy, oil, and Mideast stabilization as it pertains to energy. If the Mideast settles down and oil returns to normalcy, there are signs the US economy is headed for a modest recovery. Combine all this with the fact we believe we’re in about the 7th inning of the SW Florida foreclosure crisis, and we could be on our way to higher prices. We’re not predicting a return to 2005 prices, but rather a sustainable march to replacement cost prices. Once we reach replacement cost, builders will start building again, which will further fuel our local economy.

Should the governor be successful in landing some companies to relocate to Florida, this could be a wildcard on the positive side. Bottom line is many factors are at play, but for the past year or so investors and Northern friends have realized Florida is on sale, and they’re buying.

If we don’t see the negative wildcards, prices almost certainly have to rise. The reason we don’t believe they’ll double or triple anytime soon is because appraisals won’t support that, consumer spending may not support that, and we have hidden inventory that may enter the market. No, we’re not talking about the shadow inventory of banks, but rather shadow inventory of regular sellers who would sell if they could, but can’t because they’re currently upside down on their mortgage and do not want to suffer financial implications of a short sale. Once prices rise, we could see more sellers test the waters and attempt to sell.

That’s a lot of variables influencing the market, and the most likely outcome we believe will be modestly rising prices, at a sustainable and healthy level. Once this becomes well known, more buyers will line up because they will have seen we’ve hit bottom and bounced back up. They will have missed the bottom, but this will be close enough to make them feel good and jump back in.

We also believe banks will loosen credit standards this year. They’ve been too tight with the money looking for any reason not to lend, and this will change in 2011. Combine this with buyers realizing the bottom has passed, and we the conclusion we jump to is modestly rising prices. Let’s watch for the numbers next week. What conclusion do you reach?

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