The Northern New Jersey housing market plateaued in the third quarter of 2016, with sales flattening out after a torrid start to the year and pricing struggling to gain traction. With inventory levels falling throughout the region, though, we expect that the market might gain strength going into 2017.
Sales were basically flat throughout the region. After a strong start to the year, sales slowed during the third quarter, rising only about 2%. The good news is that if you look at the rolling year, sales were up almost 10%, continuing a trend we’ve been watching for about five years. Although we are not yet at transactional levels that we saw during the last seller’s market of the mid‑2000’s, sales are up about 40% from the bottom of the market in 2009 and are moving in a positive direction.
We are also seeing inventory continue to tighten. The industry measures the impact of inventory by calculating the “months of inventory” remaining on the market: i.e., the number of homes for sale divided by the average monthly transactions. According to industry standards, six months worth of inventory signals a balanced market: any less, and we are likely to see too many buyers chasing too few homes, which will tend to lead to multiple offer situations, then bidding wars, and ultimately higher prices. And that’s about where we are trending throughout the region, with regional inventory down over 25%. Indeed, Bergen is already below six months of inventory, and Morris, Essex, and Passaic are all below nine months.
Even with sales up and inventory down, though, average prices have been dropping throughout the region. We have been a little disappointed in the pricing this year, after what looked to be “green shoots” of price appreciation toward the end of 2015. Certainly, basic economics of supply and demand would tell us that after five years of steadily increasing buyer demand, we would expect to see some meaningful price increases. It might be that the market is simply stronger in the lower‑end than the middle‑ or higher‑end, which is changing the mix of properties sold and skewing the averages. Or it could still just be a matter of time before falling inventory and rising demand starts impacting pricing.
Going forward, we still believe that we are heading for a seller’s market. Sales have now been increasing for almost five years, which has brought inventory to the seller’s market threshold in much of the region. The economic fundamentals are all good: homes are priced at 2004 levels (without even adjusting for inflation), interest rates are still near historic lows, and the regional economy is stable. Accordingly, we continue to believe that better days are ahead, and that we are likely to see modest but meaningful price appreciation in 2017.