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Hall ranks near bottom in housing price report
Ga. ranks 12th in nation
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Hall County is listed near the bottom among metropolitan statistical areas nationwide in terms of the direction of housing prices over the past year, according to a Tuesday report from the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Among 304 metro areas, the Gainesville MSA, which is basically Hall, is ranked No. 301, with a 5.75 percent drop in housing values over the past year. The report is based on the housing price index, which takes into account new and refinanced mortgages.

Two Florida cities — Gainesville and Tallahassee — and Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown, N.Y., are the only metro areas that have worse showings, the 77-page report states.

The metro area with the best showing is Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, Ariz., which had 9.53 percent growth in house prices.

Data further show that Gainesville-Hall had a 1.65 percent drop in values over the past three months and a 29.4 percent drop over the past five years, or since the start of the Great Recession.

Steve Watson, Hall County’s chief appraiser, who has presided over dropping property tax digests during the recession, questioned the data’s inclusion of refinanced mortgages.

“These people aren’t motivated to sell their properties,” he said. “They’re just trying to take advantage of lower interest rates.”

The data may be more of “an indication of where the market is ... but it just seems to skew the results,” Watson added.

Data in the same study shows that Georgia ranked 12th in the nation with a nearly 6 percent increase in home prices the past year. Arizona led the way, with 20 percent.

“I don’t have a study on Gainesville that doesn’t include refinanced mortgages, but the one for Georgia doesn’t ... and it paints a little bit different picture,” Watson said.

The state rate “is going to include coastal Georgia and metropolitan Atlanta and some other areas that might be faring a little better than what we might be doing here, but it’s probably at least a little more reflective,” he said.

Frank Norton Jr., a Gainesville real estate executive who tracks housing and construction trends, said, “Everyone has different measurements. The real estate industry tends to follow the Multiple Listings Service.”

Another tool is the Standard & Poor/Case-Shiller home price index, which tracks the value of residential real estate in 20 metropolitan regions across the United States, including Atlanta.

“Sometimes, they’re in concert and sometimes they’re not,” Norton said of the data.

Two years ago, “there were a tremendous number of foreclosures that flew through the marketplace, which lowered the Case-Shiller index and we showed up on some lists as having a high number of devaluing properties,” Norton said.

“But during that same period of time, there were no Lake (Lanier) sales in Hall County, so you have to look at this data over a longer period of time.”

Norton said the number of foreclosures appears to dropping.

“The 132 advertised in (The Times) today is the lowest number ... that has been posted for foreclosure in Hall County since December 2008, when there was 95,” he said. “I can’t tell if that’s a one-month aberration ... or if it’s a trend line. (Foreclosures) have been trending down and are about 20 percent less than last year.”

Overall, U.S. house prices rose 1.1 percent from the second quarter to the third quarter of 2012, according to the report, which is issued by the agency that regulates Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the 12 federal home loan banks.

“With significant growth in home prices during the quarter and a modest inventory of homes available for sale, house price movements in the third quarter were similar to what we observed in the spring,” said FHFA Principal Economist Andrew Leventis.

“The past year has seen consistent price increases, but a number of factors continue to affect the recovery in home prices such as stagnant income growth, high unemployment levels, lingering uncertainty about the macroeconomy, and the large number of homes in the foreclosure pipeline.”

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