Bruce_NorrisMost experts predict a modest price recovery in the Southern California housing market during 2013.

Not Bruce Norris.  The Inland Empire investor says get ready for a 20 percent price spike by this time next year.

It’s a bold prediction, but worth listening to because the principal and founder of the Norris Group in Riverside foresaw the housing bubble burst a year before it happened. And he backed up the call by selling off much of his property just before the crash.

“My best guess is that California will have significant price inflation,” Norris said. “Prices could escalate so strongly that we will think we are in 2004 instead of 2013,” Norris said.

Not everyone sees things the same way. Many economists and housing experts are looking at flat to modest growth in prices for 2013. Gary Painter, director of research at the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate, thinks at most the Los Angeles area will see about a 3 percent increase. The California Association of Realtors has predicted an increase of about 5.7 percent.

“Well, I disagree with (Norris),” said Michael Carney, executive director of the Real Estate Research Council at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

“My forecast is that we’re not going to see a whole lot of change in home prices for a long time, and the reason is I don’t see the financing coming back. The financing (for the market boom) was coming from worldwide sales of mortgage-backed securities and that clearly came to an end in 2007.”

“There will almost be no change in prices until 2030, a generation,” Carney added.

Carney has had that discussion directly with Norris, who sits on the council’s board.

“Maybe I’ll be wrong,” Carney admits. “I keep reminding people that the truth is uncertain, but Bruce has a better track record at predicting prices than I have.”

Norris argues that market fundamentals are now in place to give the region’s home prices a boost. Inventory is at or near record lows in most markets as foreclosures have dwindled. And when properties do hit the market they attract multiple offers that drive up the selling price.

Norris’ company has been buying and selling real estate for years.

He’s making a big bet on the current market’s upside because of the tight inventory and strong demand. His company has bought about 300 properties in San Bernardino and Riverside counties in the past two years. He sold about 100 in late 2004 and into 2005 in advance of the market collapse. Then he sat back and watched the carnage unfold.

“We sold everything we owned and waited to buy it back later. We didn’t get damaged at all. We were gone,” Norris said.

Now the company is in a holding pattern waiting for prices to heat up again.

“We were getting good deals. A lot of those values tripled and doubled. We bought for less than they were worth. That’s why the (profit) marginis where it’s at,” he said.

Norris did accurately predict the big price run-up in the first half of the 2000s.

“Real estate prices will grow about 3 percent in 1997, and another 3 percent in 1998, then up 5 percent in 1999. After that, we’re going to crank,” Norris told the Press Enterprise in Riverside in the summer of 1997.

For now, Southern California home prices ended 2012 on a pretty good upward trajectory.

The median price has risen or held steady month-to-month for 10 consecutive months and has increased year-over-year for eight consecutive months in the six-county region, according to market tracker DataQuick.

Prices did take a huge hit during the market bust, according to DataQuick, with the biggest erosion in the Inland Empire.

— In Los Angeles County, the median home price peaked at $550,000 in August 2007. By January 2012, it had fallen 47.5 percent to $289,000. But by November, it had risen 11 percent.

— San Bernardino County’s median price topped out at $380,000 in November 2006 then plunged 64 percent to $137,000 by May 2009. By November it had increased 34 percent from the low point.

— Riverside County’s peak was $432,000 in December 2006; then the median dropped 58 percent to $180,000 in May 2009. In November it was 27 percent above the low point.

Julian Tu, owner of an Allstate Insurance Co. office in Woodland Hills, sees an investment opportunity in the market in 2013.

This year he sold his house on Santa Rita Street in Woodland Hills for $600,000 and plans to invest in the area’s condominium market. He bought the house in 2003 for $531,000.

He’s made an offer to buy a two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit on Owensmouth Avenue across from Warner Park for $274,000. It’s a short sale, and the offer has been accepted by the owner, and Tu is waiting for the bank to make a decision.

He’s also put in a $150,000 offer on a one-bedroom unit at The Met Warner Center, and the owner is considering the offer.

He lives in a two-bedroom condo at KB Home’s Ascent complex in the 21000 block of Erwin Street in Warner Center.

“I live around here so it’s easy for me to take care of it,” Tu said of his real estate investments. “Interest rates are low, and I’ve got some money. I want to diversify so real estate seems to be an option.”

That was the plan for his current residence.

“I bought it to rent out but it turned out that I liked it so I moved in. And my water bill (at the Santa Rita house) was $500 a month.

It looks like low rates will help drive sales well into this year. On Thursday Freddie Mac said rates remained near historic lows.

The mortgage giant said the rate on a 30-year fixed-rate home loan averaged 3.40 percent last week, up from 3.34 percent the week before. A year ago it was 3.89 percent.

The rate on a 15-year fixed loan averaged 2.66 percent, up from 2.64 percent a week earlier. A year ago the rate was 3.16 percent.

The low rates will continue to stimulate the market, Norris believes.

“That allows for price increases to take place without significantly increasing mortgage payments,” he said.


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