The Morris County housing market recovered from some late 2015 doldrums to post a robust start to 2016, with a spike in sales. Even with this surge in activity, though, pricing was disappointing.
Sales. Morris County sales were up sharply in the first quarter, rising almost 17% for the quarter, marking the sixth straight quarter of year-on-year sales growth. The long-term trend is also encouraging, with sales up over 9% for the rolling year and now regularly clearing over 5,500 yearlong sales, which is comparable to what we saw at the tail end of the last seller’s market.
Prices. This spike in sales activity did not, though, have its expected impact on pricing. Prices were down sharply, dropping over 5% in both the average and the median. And after some meaningful price appreciation in 2015, the long-term trend turned downward, with the weak first quarter driving the rolling year average and median price into negative territory. Why would prices go down as sales go up? One explanation could be that the market was relatively stronger in the lower priced entry-level markets, which would change the mix of the properties sold and drive down the overall pricing. We will keep our eye on this dynamic for the next Report.
Inventory. The “months of inventory” indicator measures how long it would take to sell out the existing inventory of homes at the current rate of home sales. In the industry, we generally consider anything below six months as a signal for a seller’s market, where tight inventory leads to multiple offer situations, bidding wars, and ultimately appreciating prices. Morris has already crossed that threshold, which is what makes the decline in pricing so surprising. Given how tight inventory is, we do expect to see some meaningful appreciation in the spring market.
Negotiability. The negotiability indicators–the amount of time sold homes were on the market, and the rate at which sellers were able to retain their full asking price–tracked the decline in the pricing. Neither indicator showed the expected result: the days on market went up a tick, and the listing retention rate went down. In other words, sellers lost a little bit of negotiating leverage, a dynamic that doesn’t make any sense in a quarter where sales were up 17%. We think this is a short-term blip, and expect homes to sell more quickly and for closer to asking price in the spring market.
Going forward, we expect that Morris County’s sales activity will eventually have a meaningful impact on pricing. With homes still at historically affordable prices, interest rates low, and a generally improving economy, we believe that buyer demand will strengthen and drive more meaningful price appreciation in a robust spring market and throughout 2016.