Philadelphia’s Housing Continues to Exhibit Bipolar Symptoms in 2014 Q1 by Kevin Gillen
Prices and sales continue to rise in affluent neighborhoods, but decrease or remain flat in others.
April 14, 2014: Although it has been two years since Philadelphia house prices hit their post-recession bottom, its recovery has not only proceeded in fits and starts, but has also been unevenly—and inequitably—spread across the City’s neighborhoods. The latest stats continue to confirm this trend, indicating improved market conditions in either relatively high-income or gentrifying areas, but continued stagnation or even decline in the rest of the City. The average house value in Philadelphia declined by 4% in Q1, according to the latest data from the City’s Recorder of Deeds. However, this citywide average blends price increases in some neighborhoods with price decreases in others.
House prices generally increased in Philadelphia’s more affluent or revitalizing neighborhoods, but fell in most remaining parts of the City, with the poorest neighborhoods experiencing the largest declines. From smallest to largest, the average change in house prices by neighborhood in Q1 were: West Philadelphia (-17.5%), North Philadelphia (-12.9%), Kensington/Frankford (-6.1%), Upper Northeast Philadelphia (-5.9%), Lower Northeast Philadelphia (-5.7%), Northwest Philadelphia (-2.2%), South Philadelphia (+2.5%), University City (+2.7%) and Center City/Fairmount (+6.8%).
The median house price in Philadelphia fell to $110,000 in Q1, a 13% decrease from $127,000 in the previous quarter.
Home sales volume continued to increase this past quarter on a seasonally-adjusted basis, although activity remains relatively skewed towards the higher-priced vicinities of the City. There were 3,148 arms-length transactions in Q1, up from 2,849 a year ago and up from 2,503 in their post-recession low three years ago. While sales activity is trending positively, overall volume still remains below its historic average of approximately 3,800 sales per quarter. Notably, however, sales of million-dollar homes continue to run well above their historic average, providing further evidence that Philadelphia’s housing recovery remains skewed towards the upper segment of the market.
Although price changes remain varied across neighborhoods, this quarter’s citywide average decline has returned Philadelphia’s house price index to near its post-recession low of two years ago. Currently, the index has a value of 375.4, which is only slightly above its value of 372.0 in 2012 Q2.
Inventories of homes listed for sale also continued their decline in Q1. Currently, there are 6,798 homes listed for sale in the city, which is very close to the pre-bubble historic average of approximately 6,000, and down significantly from its peak of over 12,000 back in 2006. This decline in surplus inventory combined with the upward trend in sales activity should provide some optimism that supply and demand are continuing to move towards being back in balance with each other.
To what extent this quarter’s mixed numbers may be attributable to the adverse effects of an exceptionally cold polar vortex-induced winter is unclear. However, while some neighborhoods in Philadelphia appear to be in full resurgence, the lack of citywide price appreciation stands in marked contrast to those of most other U.S. cities.
According to Case-Shiller’s house price indices for the twenty largest U.S. cities, price recovery remains strong and steady in most other cities, compared to Philadelphia’s variance and unevenness. That Philadelphia’s recovery will continue in this way for the near future is supported by the most recent house price forecast from Zillow, which is projecting Philadelphia’s house prices to rise only 1.3% over the course of the next twelve months, while forecasting a 3% increase for the U.S. as a whole.