Home prices in major national markets have reached their lowest level since the housing bubble burst in 2006, but Wichita home prices remain steady despite high unemployment.
Wichita has escaped the national price crash, driven by a glut of foreclosures, unsold homes and the reluctance or inability of many to buy.
Prices equal actual value in Wichita, according to local brokers.
"When you look at the value of real estate in Wichita, it's real value," said Willie Kihle, president of Prudential Dinning-Beard Realtors in Wichita.
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"In a lot of places, values have been inflated by location, demand and factors like that. Our market here is more what I'd call a true market."
The reason: The Wichita market is relatively unsullied by investors, said Tessa Hultz, chief executive of the Wichita Area Association of Realtors.
"Wichita did not experience the level of speculative buying and selling that led to the inflated price increases, followed by the price corrections taking place in the hardest hit areas of the housing market," said Hultz, who came to Wichita from a position with the St. Louis Realtors association.
"The stability of prices in this area reflects that the housing here is and has been correctly valued through the highs and lows of the economy."
Nationally, prices fell from February to March in 18 of the metro areas tracked by the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city index. And prices in a dozen markets have reached their lowest points since the housing crisis began. Prices in March rose only in the Seattle and Washington, D.C., metro areas.
But in Wichita, prices fell by only 0.38 percent, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency — the first decline since the second quarter of 2010 and one of only three down quarters since 1991.
Steve Wilbur, a residential broker with United Country in Wichita, isn't sure prices will remain stable.
"I can't give you a good reason why prices aren't down," he said. "Historically, they're right: We've never had the big ebb and flow of values."
The uncertainty centers around unemployment — on the decrease in Wichita, but still uncomfortably high at 7.5 percent for veterans of the local housing market.
"We still have the big employment problems," Wilbur said. "I'm surprised we're staying up as well as we are, but I think we're going to see more downward pressure as unemployment continues."
Wilbur said that price pressure is already showing up outside Wichita.
"We had a 101-year-old mansion in Chapman under contract, and we had a bank appraisal come in real short," he said. "We've had a heck of a time getting value on it."
A record number of foreclosures are forcing prices down nationally, and they are expected to keep falling through this year.
The 12 cities now at their lowest levels in nearly four years are: Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Cleveland; Detroit; Las Vegas; Miami; Minneapolis; New York; Phoenix; Portland, Ore.; and Tampa.
The Case-Shiller index measures sales of select homes in those cities compared with January 2000. For each of the areas it reviews, the index provides a three-month moving average price. By measuring the sales prices of the same homes over time, the index seeks to gauge market values and conditions.
The housing sector is struggling even as the overall economy is in the midst of a steady but slow recovery. Some of the worst declines in home prices are in cities hit hardest by unemployment and foreclosures, such as Phoenix, Tampa and Las Vegas.
They are flooded with homes sitting vacant, awaiting buyers. Many banks have agreed to allow homes at risk of foreclosure to be sold for less than what is owed on their mortgages. That trend has pulled down prices further.
Coastal areas, such as San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Washington and Boston, have fared comparatively better in the past two years.
Denver and Dallas are on pace to hit post-housing bust lows in the next few months.
In the seven years before its peak in July 2006, the home-price index surged 155 percent. Since then, it's fallen 33 percent.
"We look for further declines to be registered in the quarters ahead," said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR Inc.