I’m traveling, so the editorializing will likely be kept mercifully brief for the next week and a half.
With that said let’s have a quick look at the median-based price indicators for last month. They were, in a word, horrifying. (So far so good on the brevity).
Between January and February, the size-adjusted median price declined 5.7 percent for single family homes and 7.7 percent for condos.
I emphasize the first clause of the above sentence. The aforementioned shellacking took place in a single month. From the September 2005 peak of the series, the size-adjusted median price is down 25.1 percent for single family homes and 28.1 percent for condos. The downtrend has accelerated of late, however, and a hefty portion of that decline has taken place in the past several months.
The “plain vanilla” median, beloved by analysts everywhere despite being just about the least accurate of the price indicators, was hit even harder. It was down 7.4 percent for single family homes and 8.1 percent for condos. Again, in a month. From the aggregate peak in November 2005 the vanilla median is down 24.1 percent for detached homes and 26.4 percent for condos.
These numbers measure what the typical home buyer paid, not what was received in return. The size-adjusted median at least measures how much square footage was received in return, but home size is just one aspect of overall quality. These figures are thus subject to distortions based on shifts in the types of properties being purchased. (Please see my lengthy treatise on the topic of home price indicators if you’d like more detail). We can’t know how much of the decline was “for real” until the Case-Shiller numbers for February come out in late April.