NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Yes, home prices have rebounded nicely from the depths of the recession, but in many major markets it could take three or more years to get back to the peak prices of 2007.
That presents the owner who wants to move with some tough choices. But selling now, at a loss, is not necessarily the bad move it looks like at first glance.
The new home-price assessment from Zillow.com says prices in half the nation's largest markets will not get back to pre-recession prices "for another three-plus years." One reason is that as markets slowly return to normal, prices gains have slowed from the double-digit levels of some recent years.
Nationwide, prices rose 6.3% over the most recent 12-month period, still a healthy clip by historical standards. But the pace is expected to slow to 4.2% by early next year. Zillow expects the average home nationwide to hit its pre-recession peak in 2.7 years, but that it will take longer in half the metro areas.Some will take a lot longer -- including Minneapolis-St. Paul, where the break-even is projected for 2028, another 14.5 years, or Kansas City, Mo., at 12.5 years. The situation looks even worse if inflation is factored in, because returning to the peak price still means missing out on all the gains that could have been realized since 2007 if the housing crash had not occurred. Also see: Your Home Investment Has Returned Zero in 10 Years therefore unjustified. That may be reassuring to people who bought well before the bubble and realized the peak prices were outlandish, but it's not much solace for anyone who bought when prices were in the stratosphere. The news isn't uniformly bad. Denver, Pittsburgh, San Jose and Austin have already matched their peak, and Houston, San Francisco and San Antonio are nearly there. About a third of homes with mortgages have negative equity, which means owners owe more than their homes are worth, says Zillow Chief Economist Stan Humphries. "But there is a silver lining as we navigate these tricky middle innings of the recovery," he said. "Because home values remain so far below their peak levels in so many areas, it is still possible for buyers to find bargains." That begs the question: What if you are both a potential buyer and a potential seller? Many homeowners' gut instinct says to hang in there until the home is worth at least what was paid for it. And many underwater owners have no choice, because they would rely on the sales proceeds to pay off the mortgage. But in some cases the home, though worth less than was paid, could nonetheless fetch enough to pay off the mortgage balance. That can happen if the owner had made a significant down payment and if years of mortgage payments had shaved the debt. A homeowner in this position would still lose money on a sale -- perhaps all of the down payment. Other homeowners could tap savings and investments to make up the difference between what the home fetches in a sale and the loan balance. Also see: Mortgage and Housing Outlook at Midyear Is a Muddle homeowner who feels trapped underwater should weigh the options. Though many people will be stuck in their homes until prices recover fully, some can wriggle free, and without a financial catastrophe.