Will housing outperform the overall economy in 2010 as we pull out of the Great Recession?
Nothing is absolute in the predictions business, but there are solid indications that, yes, housing is likely to rebound more energetically than the overall economy.
Here's why: Even the most bearish Wall Street analysts now concede that home sales are up in many areas from year-earlier levels -- sometimes by extraordinary percentages.
For example, MDA DataQuick reports that sales in the greater Phoenix market in November were 62 percent higher than the year before.
Prices either have bottomed out in dozens of these markets or are close to it. That's because the distressed sales component of local volume - short sales, REOs and foreclosures - has been declining slowly but steadily.
In his latest forecast, Jay Brinkmann, chief economist for the Mortgage Bankers Association, says both existing and new home sales will be higher in 2010 than in 2009 - and 2009 was better than 2008.
No question that a key part of the energy in housing will be the direct result of stimulus efforts by the federal government - especially the two tax credit programs -- that will push sales and even pricing through mid year.
The overall economy, on the other hand, according to Brinkmann, is likely only to grow slowly in the first half of 2010, and not really warm up until the second half.
The heavy anchor dragging on national economic growth -- and on housing demand -- will continue to be unemployment. Brinkmann says that "the time of job destruction is over" in this cycle - that is, the number of new layoffs and new unemployment insurance claims filings are trending down.
But we haven't yet moved into the next phase nationwide - that of "job creation," which may not begin until later in the year, he says, and may be a long, slow process.
The National Association of Realtors' chief economist, Lawrence Yun, sees a strong sales year ahead - up 20 percent over 2009. In some markets, he also expects to see a return to modest and sustained price increases - anywhere from two to five percent on average.
Will higher interest rates put a big dent in these projections? Many economists are forecasting 30 year rates in the upper 5 percent range later in the year.