How to Understand Your Housing Market

Written by: Steve Cook   Thu, July 30, 2009 Market Analysis

 “All real estate is local” is an industry dictum that’s not only obvious, it’s very true.  When you hear on the news that home sales or prices are up or down, chances are that those are national reports that may have little or nothing to do with conditions where you live.

 During the very depths of the housing recession, sales and prices were strong in places like central Texas, Alaska and the Rocky Mountain states.  During the boom years, markets in the Midwest like Omaha or Detroit hardly felt it.


How can you find out whether it’s a good time to buy or sell in the market you live?


Defining Your Market

First, you need to define what you mean by “local.”  To appreciate the impact of location, geography, services and other factors that create appeal for real estate, try to break the area where you want to live into the smallest discrete units for which you can get useful information.  Some urban real estate markets are as small as a three or four block area.  Suburban markets can be a housing development or a small incorporated area.  Rural markets can be a county or more.


If you are new to the area where you want to buy, note the local political and geographic boundaries that define neighborhoods.  Are houses and lots larger on one side of the street than other?  Do commercial establishments stop along a certain boundary and give way to completely residential housing?  You have come to the subtle boundaries that define the most local of real estate markets.

Check out your area online on a Microsoft Virtual Earth map to get a good perspective.  Best of all, talk to locals and listen to how they describe the neighborhood in which they live.  Get a sense for the more desirable areas and the factors that make other areas less so.


Virtual Sources of Information

The Internet today offers some great sources of information and free tools designed to help buyers and sellers understand their local markets.  Several of the best are Trulia,, Cyberhomes and Zillow.


Zillow introduced the automated value model (AVM) to consumers in 2006 and has worked hard to perfect its tool for valuing property.  Today it offers detailed market information, including not just recent sales but also a home valuation index for the entire housing stock by zip code, incorporated town and even community, neighborhood or subdivision. 


Cyberhomes also is known for its online valuation and provides market values data by county, city and zip code.  They provide median value and change over the past year.  Their heat maps drill down into neighborhoods and include valuations for homes not for sale as well as for sale, giving you a good graphic picture of


Trulia is famous for its heat maps, which give a wonderful graphic presentation of market trends. Trulia gives median sales price as well as listing price but unlike Cyberhomes, you cant drill down below the zip code level on it heat maps.


Google maps are a great way to look at a neighborhood online, with street views too.  It has searchable listings as well. combines listings with extensive neighborhood information.  Best of all is its “wikihood” function which allows users in about 30 cities to draw their own neighborhood boundaries. 


Sites operated by local Realtor boards and multiple listing sources also publish market data that may be local enough to be useful to you.


Non-virtual Sources


Newspapers are good sources of local market data.  Most publish sales from registered by county and city authorities and many also publish listings data and market commentary from local Realtor boards.


At the end of the day, there is the real estate professional.  There are some 3 to 4 million licensed agents and brokers eager to help you buy and sell.  A viral service they bring you is knowledge of the local market where you want to buy or sell.  When selling, ask your real estate agent for a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA) which most provide at free cost to market their services.



Leave a Reply