For about two years now, I have been creating reports on various neighborhoods throughout the city and subdivisions in Albemarle County. One of the things I have done is to look at homes by the price per square foot, hoping to minimize as much as possible any bias toward the product mix of homes being sold. Last year, big homes were selling, this year, it is the entry level homes that are selling. (When I can get time on my PC and do a histogram in Excel I will. Apple number crunching bites.) One of the things I haven’t done, until now, is to look at the entire city of Charlottesville as a single unit in the same manner.

At first, when I looked at this graph, I was shocked. I thought for sure the market had moved more than the graph appears to demonstrate. Then I calculated out the percentage shifts and realized that actually the market is about where most people thought. In general, pricing in the City is down. And, as known, the pricing is, at best, erratic and, at times, somewhat irrational. The most obvious part of this graph is a quick look at Days On the Market (DOM). We have known that it was going up, and this sure makes that obvious. I had originally figured that I would need to do two scales, one for DOM, and one for Price per S.F. But alas, the DOM actually exceeded the Price / S.F. at one point.

The graph below is fairly straight forward. I have pulled every detached home that has sold since January 1, 2005 in the city of Charlottesville. I then calculated the Price / S.F. for each home and then pulled the average $/SF and average DOM for every month since January, 2005. The results were then graphed.

City_Monthly.jpg When you look at the green line ($/SF) it looks fairly flat, but in reality, that is just the scale. In fact, I looked at the rise and fall over every three month period during the 05-09 years, and found 5 periods that the price showed over 10% drops during 3 months. There were also nine corresponding positive periods in which the prices rose more than 10% over a three month period. Again, erratic behavior.

But as you look at the line over time, you see the trend downward. From the peak in April, 2006 to current month, we find a price adjustment of roughly 10.5%.

I would have guessed a larger devaluation of the market overall, but if you look back three months to March, 2009 the price was showing values 38% below today’s prices. Obviously, the city has not gone up nearly 40% in three months. Instead, what you are seeing is a light month of transactions where a single deal can dramatically change the average.

So where should this line trend in the next few months? I would be surprised if we see what looks like a positive trend continue much more. I think the city has found a good number of sales in lower priced properties for the entry level buyer. At the time of this writing, there are 85 properties under contract in the City. While this is not similar to 2005, it is a fair number of transactions occurring.

I have addressed this numerous times in other posts, but I continue to shout it, because it matters so much: The big “What If” for the city is the unemployment rate. We are still at the top of the state for our numbers, but the rates are no longer as good as they once were. We are way up. The most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics shows Charlottesville as the healthiest MSA in the state with civilian unemployment rates of 5.5%, but that is a far cry from one year ago when we were at 2.5%. This is going to play a major role at how many homebuyers are in the market. No one buys a home when they are afraid of losing all their income. So, we need to keep an eye on it. The BLS numbers project April to be lower than March, but most analysts are projecting the US rate to rise through the end of 2009.