"Nationwide home prices in any one year are typically a pretty good guide of what's going to happen next year, and only Minneapolis did better than the national numbers in [predicting the future]," says economist Jed Kolko of Trulia, a property-listing site that analyzed some 34 years of data to see which markets best forecast coming market moves.
Trulia looked at what housing prices did nationally and in the 100 largest U.S. metro areas between 1980 and early 2014 to see which markets serve as good bellwethers for where home values are heading.
The study found that nationwide price moves in any given year serve as a generally good predictor of where average home values will go in the next 12 months.
Trulia estimated that a specific year's changes in the Federal Housing Finance Agency's U.S. home-price index scored 0.77 out of a possible 1.0 mark in predicting the next year's price moves correctly. In other words, if average home prices rise or fall in a given year, the odds are good they'll do the same in the next year.
Kolko believes national price changes predict the future fairly accurately because property values — unlike stock prices — typically change direction only very slowly.
"The stock market can easily move 1% in a day, but it's unusual for home prices to move even 1% in a month," he says.
Of course, the expert adds that the recent housing boom and bust show that "there are exceptions to the rule."
Trulia also found that the Minneapolis market's price changes in any given year are even better at predicting where overall U.S. home prices will head in the future, or at least they were during 1980-2014 as a whole.
Annual price changes in the Mini Apple scored a 0.79 score out of a possible 1.0 in predicting the next year's nationwide price moves correctly during that period, although they weren't the best bellwether from 1980 to 2000.
Kolko isn't sure what's special about Minneapolis, as Trulia found that a diverse group of markets — from San Diego to West Palm Beach, Fla. — did almost as well in predicting the future during the years studied.
"It's hard to see what these markets all have in common," he says. "It's a lot easier to see what the markets that don't have a good predictive value have in common."
Those include Houston, Oklahoma City and other metro areas where the oil-and-gas industry is a big player either locally or somewhere else in the same state.
Kolko believes those places are bad bellwethers because the energy market "often follows a different pattern" than the broad American economy does. For instance, energy prices soared in early 2008 just before the Great Recession hit with a vengeance that year.
What do current price moves predict will happen in 2015?
Kolko says average asking prices for Minneapolis-area homes listed on Trulia.com rose 9.8% in the 12 months ended Oct. 31, while overall U.S. list prices gained 6.4% during the same period.
That's smaller than a 11.2% Minneapolis gain and 11.7% nationwide advance seen a year earlier, so Kolko predicts average U.S. property values will rise in 2015, but not as much as they have this year.
"I expect that we'll see slower national price gains in 2015 — possibly as low as 3%, although 4% to 5% is also possible," he says.
— By Jerry Kronenberg for MainStreet