Housing markets continue to edge forward across U.S.

San Jose continues to lead list of major metros showing economic, housing improvement

Markets in 119 of the approximately 340 metro areas nationwide returned to or exceeded their last normal levels of economic and housing activity in the first quarter of 2016, with San Jose leading the list.

The National Association of Home Builders/First American Leading Markets Index (LMI) released this week showed that 45 markets saw a year-over-year net gain.

The index's nationwide score ticked up to .95, meaning that based on current permit, price and employment data, the nationwide average is running at 95% of normal economic and housing activity. Meanwhile, 86% of markets have shown an improvement year-over-year.

"Housing markets continue to recover gradually, edging along by a firming economy, solid job creation and low mortgage interest rates," said NAHB Chairman Ed Brady, a home builder and developer from Bloomington, Ill. "We expect the housing sector to improve at a slow, but steady pace throughout the year."

Added NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz: "Among the LMI components, house prices continue to make the most widespread gains, with 324 markets having returned to or exceeded their last normal levels. Meanwhile, 66 metros have reached or exceeded normal employment activity.

"Single-family permits have inched up to 49% of normal activity, but remain the lagging part of the index," he said.

Kurt Pfotenhauer, vice chairman of First American Title Insurance Company, which co-sponsors the LMI report, agreed.

"More than 80% of all metros saw their Leading Markets Index increase or hold steady over the quarter, an important sign that the housing market is heading in the right direction," he said.

San Jose continued to lead the list of major metros on the LMI, along with Baton Rouge, La., Austin, Texas; Honolulu and Houston. Rounding out the top 10 were Oklahoma City; Los Angeles; Nashville, Tenn.; Charleston, S.C.; and Salt Lake City.

Looking at smaller metros, both Midland and Odessa, Texas, have LMI scores of 2.0 or better, meaning that their markets are now at double their strength prior to the recession. Also at the top of the list of smaller metros are Manhattan, Kan; Walla Walla, Wash. and Wheeling, W.Va.

The LMI identifies those areas that are now approaching and exceeding their previous normal levels of economic and housing activity.

Approximately 340 metro areas are scored by taking their average permit, price and employment levels for the past 12 months and dividing each by their annual average over the last period of normal growth.

For single-family permits and home prices, 2000-2003 is used as the last normal period, and for employment, 2007 is the base comparison. The three components are then averaged to provide an overall score for each market; a national score is calculated based on national measures of the three metrics. An index value above one indicates that a market has advanced beyond its previous normal level of economic activity.

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