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Good news: Assessor says the bottom has bottomed out

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POSTED November 2, 2012 12:59 a.m.

My property tax bill hasn’t changed for the second straight year.

It is yet another sign that the housing market is in recovery mode.

Seven years ago the house I bought  was valued at a nose-bled $325,000.

I bought it almost five years go for $185,000.

It then - based on values assigned by the San Joaquin County Assessor - dropped to $125,000, then  $115,000 and finally $90,000 two years ago.

It reaffirms transactions taking place in the market that the bottom part of the market - the under $130,000 homes - have stabilized across the board. Market data for Manteca, Ripon, and Lathrop reflects that the same stabilization has spread to the mid-range homes as well. Even the upper tier homes  in the market for the most part have stopped price dives as well.

That doesn’t mean, of course, if you have owned your house since at least 2006 and you go to sell it that you won’t experience a price shock. Homes in general in Manteca, Lathrop, and Ripon are selling for 50 percent of their peak value in 2006. That’s a lot better than 57 percent off peak that it reached at one point.

It goes without saying I’m underwater. The Zillow Negative Equity Report for April, May, and June of this year indicated 30.9 percent of all mortgage holders are underwater representing in $1.15 trillion more owed than the collective homes are worth.

More than a few folks are batting around that statistic as being bad on the premise it is never good to owe more on something than it is worth.

But here’s the kicker. Most of those underwater aren’t treading water. They can handle the payments.

Letting the underwater statistic scare you away from buying a home would be the same of letting the underwater statistic on auto loans scare you away from buying a vehicle. At least 25 percent of auto loans - based on 2009 statistics - are underwater. That’s due in a large part to the fact a new car drops significantly in value the second you drive it off the lot.

It is true job loss followed by the inability to find employment can sink someone who is underwater. Realistically, though, most of those underwater aren’t in danger of drowning anytime soon.

So was buying a home a wise move in the past six years for folks who were previously renters?

A typical 20-year-old three bedroom, two bathroom home in Manteca is renting for $1,500 today. That’s up about $125 from two years ago.

Friends who bought such a house about 30 months ago have an all-inclusive monthly mortgage payment of $1,251. That includes property taxes, mortgage insurance, and homeowners insurance. Do the math. They don’t even need the benefits the interest deduction on their taxes to be ahead of the game already.

And while the return to 2006 price may be years off, every dollar that the market climbs back means they are building equity.

But - given the past five years - the best way to look at it is with each dollar hike in perceived market value they are reducing their monthly housing costs.

And that should be the bottom line that counts as we all have to live somewhere.

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