Monday, July 06, 2009

The Arlington Artifice: May 2009

This recurring monthly post tracks the latest results of the housing market seen in Arlington Massachusetts.

I choose Arlington as a result of the Boston Globe’s (relatively) recently published and absurdly anecdotal and ludicrous farce about the town’s “hot” housing market.

The ridiculous tone and outright mishandling of the housing data by the Boston Globe “reporter” would almost be comical if it weren’t for the fact that the Globe’s editor, Martin Baron, ALSO blundered seriously when he responded to my email about the discrepancies.

Baron attempted to justify the articles contents and in so doing, he disclosed his disgracefully poor abilities with even the most basic economic data.

I suppose this shouldn’t come as a surprise given that Baron also appears to be presiding over the final days of his sorry paper.

Why would an editor of a nationally recognized newspaper think that a single town would continue to function as an isolated bubble amongst a backdrop of the most significant nationwide housing recession since the Great Depression?

IMPORTANT NOTE: In anticipation of its final demise, I’m putting together some ideas for a public celebration of the death of the Boston Globe… I’m thinking this could be an informal park gathering (... possibly on the Greenway?) the weekend after they close down… could be a couple of quarters away of course, but readers are encouraged to email ideas.


Last I checked-in the spring had just sprung… still a bit chilly… the ground frosty and hard in the early morning… the smell of Realtor ambition could almost be teased from the air surrounding Arlington, Belmont, Lexington and the other “hot” Boston metro-area towns.

And what’s so wrong with ambition?!

Just thinking of all the cabbage that gets siphoned off of those spring transactions almost has ME wanting to get a broker license!

Ahh… Spring… Suckertime in the residential property markets!

But yet… how short this annual phenomena is… come July and your firmly on the down-slope.

Not many families want to move into a new home with the closing day beyond the start of the school year and besides… everyone is on vacation.

So the fervor starts to die down and by mid-August the market slips firmly into “Slows-ville”… a place where it will stay, getting progressively slower, for the remainder of the year…

Such is life for the Northeast property markets… you take your ups with your downs every year!

And what a year we are having here in Boston.

Of course if you read the Boston Globe your walking around spouting off junk concepts like “Boston area housing is still hot!... we have only seen 3% price declines in the Boston metro-markets… Luxury condos are still all the rage!... Cambridge has actually seen prices go up since the bust!“

But in reality (…i.e. the place where advertiser dollars don’t distort the truth and lead to a raft of junk articles intended to fluff everyone from agents to nincompoop buyers to the residents of Boston’s condo-laden phony-baloney arts and cultural districts…) this season has been one of the worst on record.

Sales are at historic lows… below the level seen even last year… prices of both single family homes and condos are continuing to fall… woeful tales of tightened credit availability are getting almost as numerous as the numerous accounts of bubble-era euphoria… it’s obvious that this is going to be a long hard slog.

In any event…

The May results give clear indication that 2009 will be historically slow with the year-to-date sales count falling to nearly the lowest level on record for Arlington (just two sales above 1990) and FAR BELOW the lowest level seen for the Arlington-Belmont-Bedford-Cambridge-Lexington aggregate.

Median prices, though volatile with the low sales counts, are falling dramatically too.

Arlington’s May median selling price dropped a stunning 17.88% to $407,750 while the year-to-date median fell 9.85% to $453,500.

The following chart (click for much larger version) shows a history of Arlington’s May median sales price since 1988 along with the annual outcome.

The next chart (click for much larger version) shows that annual home sales in Arlington (left axis) have fluctuated in a range between 233 and 381 over the last 21 years with the peak selling year being 1998.

Notice that monthly and year-to-date sales (right axis) are very near the lowest levels seen on record.

The final chart shows how the year-to-date median sales price and combined sale count for Arlington, Bedford, Belmont, Cambridge and Lexington have changed since 1988.

All towns registered modesty lower to exceptionally low sales and most showed declining median selling prices compared to last year.

Notice that while Cambridge shows increasing median selling prices, this outcome is simply a result of the EXCEPTIONALLY the low number of sales in Cambridge… currently 46.8% BELOW the lowest levels ever recorded… this is the problem inherent in the median selling price figure… when the number of sales are low the median selling price can jump wildly up or down and further, gives no real insight into the true price movement of the areas housing stock.