Not the Usual Pattern

It's not just the weather that's unusual these days. The state of the real estate market is abnormal as well. Generally speaking, real estate leads into a recession and out of a recession, with commercial real estate following residential trends nine months to a year later.

This time, we did lead into the recession, with the peak of prices and demand coming in about 2005, and falling every year since then. The big dip in the financial markets didn't happen for another three years, and, while the banks look as though they've come roaring out of the doldrums, real estate has not recovered. In fact, many economists say that only real estate has not begun to recover.

Why was this cycle different? For one thing, it was in many ways the perfect storm. One thing after another conspired to keep real estate from improving. More importantly, the one thing the government did do--the homebuyer tax credit--didn't work enough, and sent things crashing back down. Think of a ball that rolls uphill, but not quite to the top, and the speed with which it then comes back down, and replace that image with real estate. The most important factor, in my opinion, is that the government did help everybody else with actual cash--the banks, the insurance companies, and the automakers--leaving us essentially to fend for ourselves. As a result, we suffered even more than we otherwise would have, since the pain was not spread evenly.

If I sound as though I think that it was all a little unfair, that's true. And I'm more than a little tired of this market, as are all of my coworkers and industry compatriots. Instead of leading the country out of recession, we're still lagging. It looks as though we're in for another year of glacially-paced improvement, and maybe a couple of more years of slow progress before we really see good, or at least normal, times. The spring buying season will tell us a lot more, and, this time, I hope I'm wrong about the pace of recovery!