Reggie's grassroots analysis:
The S&P index severely understates the glut in housing and the downward pressure on pricing. It uses the repeat sales methodology which only includes houses have that have been sold at least twice, which excludes all new construction. So the homebuilder’s product which is being slashed in price with butcher knives and cleavers don’t even show up in the index, and these homes must be slashed enough to sell in a slow market that no longer has cheap credit, has much competition in excess supply, and no longer has the phantom appraisal pricing which helped sustain the bubble in the first place (more on this later).
The index also fails to include anything but single family detached and semi-detached housing, so coops and condos aren’t included in the mix. This means that areas like Manhattan and Brooklyn, South Miami and Las Vegas, DC and Cally are severely under counted. The mere act of excluding condos (the worst victim of boom time speculation) instantaneously makes things look a lot better than they are.
Also excluded are properties who experienced larger than median jumps in pricing, which where considered to be investor properties (benefiting from significant renovation in anticipation of resale). Investor properties constitute a very significant amount of the current prime and sub-prime defaults now.
Mentioned earlier was the push from appraisers eager to win new business. In the residential investment game, you (as in bank, mortgage banker, mortgage broker, real estate broker, investor, seller, and everyone in between) push the appraiser to come in with the highest value possible to allow you to a.) get the biggest loan possible, b.) obtain the most preferential pricing/terms (lower LTV) possible, c.) get as much from the sale as possible, or d.) all of the above. In the comparable valuation game, you pick comparables and adjust them for particulars to come up with a valuation. Once that inflated value is actually recorded in the city register, it's inflated value is used to further hyper-inflate other deals, and the upward spiral continues. The appraiser, in the boom times, picked the highest prices (which were inflated) to get a highest price (which itself was inflated) that is added into the records to make (guess what???) higher prices. Throw the petrochemical fuel of very cheap money and easy credit NINJA loans and it is easy to see how this housing boom was more than a boom, it was a speculative explosion in real asset prices that usually average 1%-3% a year in appreciation doing about 12%-100% in many places.
The caveat is, this works both ways. When the appraisers get busted for being too aggressive (and threatened with litigation and discipline - if you read the articles, they have been passing the buck saying they were pressured into inflating numbers) they start getting overly conservative and do the opposite. The banks also stop looking the other way since they may actually have to use their own money to fund/keep these loans instead of the OPM method of MBS/CDO fame. So now, the guys are looking for the lowest average prices in an attempt to be conservative, and the process reverses itself.
Now, we haven't even gotten to the commercial sector yet, where the real money is thrown around. Speculation and credit underwriting lite is coming home to roost in a sector near you.