open house sign remax - home pricesJust when the long lines of holiday shoppers at the local mall left you thinking that the economy was maybe, just maybe, ready to come off life support, along comes the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index showing that home prices dropped another 1.3% from September to October.

All 20 cities recorded price declines, something that hasn't happened since February 2009.

So, is it time to put our home-owning heads back in the oven? Nah.If it's twisted numbers you need to put your mind at ease, take comfort in knowing that the index has actually risen 4.4% from its April 2009 bottom, although it's still 29.6% below its July 2006 peak. So yep, you can't sell your house for what you thought it was worth back in the summer of '06. Once you get over that, life in these recessionary times becomes easier folks.

And when it comes to real estate today, the real question of how much value your individual house has lost depends on where it is. Not just the state, region, or city and in many cases, not even just the neighborhood. Real estate today is hyper-localized. There are certain streets in every town that remain more desirable than others. Buyer demand determines what those desirable factors are, but traditionally they've been (in no particular order): the quality of schools, proximity to the ocean, the wow factor of views, and nearness to something else of value. Take this one to the bank: The shoebox house with freeway noise and the crappy school district has lost a greater percentage of its value than the house on the hill with ocean views and a terrific school.

The only way to know where you personally stand is to get a real estate agent or three to show you actual sales comps of everything within a three-block radius of your home. Find the homes that most match yours in terms of square footage, lot size, views and special features. And don't bother looking at what they were listed at, just look at what they sold for. Those comps are the only real barometer of what's in store for your house.

There's another thing to keep in mind. To state the obvious: Torturing yourself is actually a pretty self-destructive thing. If you don't need to sell, you really don't need to even be thinking about the real estate market right now. Keep going to work, cutting the grass and remember that this isn't actually your problem. Sure, it could be down the road, but for now, maybe you should be more focused on the mortgage interest rates so that you can pounce on them should they again drop.

If you don't have to sell, then don't. 2010 will go down as the worst year for home sales in a decade. Joblessness and tight credit were impediments to people buying homes and the high number of foreclosures forced prices down. Nothing in the works will be changing those conditions anytime soon, so just sit tight and enjoy the fact that for now at least, you don't have a dog in the race.

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