Looking for the healthiest housing markets in America? Chances are you won't find them in the red-hot California and Florida metros that made headlines this year with bidding wars, inventory droughts, "flash" sales and soaring prices.
You'll find more consistent appreciation and longer-term gains in places like Tulsa, San Antonio, Sioux City, Pittsburgh, Des Moines, New Orleans, Asheville, Rochester and Albuquerque.
These are some of the 77 "rebound" markets -- most of them in the South and West -- that as of August have managed to regain the highest values they reached at the crest of the housing boom seven years ago and more, according to the monthly Homes.com Rebound Report. An additional 143 markets out of 300 markets studied have regained more than half the value they lost since their prices peaked.
Nation still has a ways to go
By contrast, the nation's homes as a whole still have a long way to go to regain the value lost since 2006. For example, from April 2006 to September 2013, CoreLogic's national Home Price Index is down 17.4 percent.
Homes.com's Rebound Report has helped to identify rebound markets, which are often missed by housing market reports that track only the largest markets.
"The research was designed to give the consumer a greater awareness of not just what's happening nationally or the top metros but to dig a little deeper, to give people an indication of where there are some opportunities to get into the market," says Brock MacLean, executive vice president of Homes.com.
Smaller boom, smaller bust
The rebound research describes a dramatically different recovery, according to Dr. Hank Fishkind, an economist with Fishkind & Associates in Florida, who is familiar with the data.
"The central part of the country did not have nearly the decline from peak to trough that occurred in Florida, California, Arizona, so they started the recovery from a much better base. Then they have improved significantly from that base. There is economic strength that is driving these markets from a fundamentally stronger base compared to the speculative demand that was driving markets in California and elsewhere."
Because their prices didn't fall as much during the Great Recession, the rebounding markets didn't suffer as many foreclosures, Dr. Fishkind says."There were a far smaller percentage of those properties where mortgages were above their appraised value."
He also notes that many of the rebounding markets lie in a band that stretches north from Texas to North Dakota, which has a stronger economic base than many states. "States with economies in the energy sector or the agricultural sector are the ones that have done the best during this housing cycle." Some 73 percent of the rebound markets are in energy-producing areas.
Slow and steady wins the race
Albuquerque is the latest market to make Homes.com's rebound list. The best way to describe the local real estate marketplace is "slow and steady," says Albuquerque Realtor Laurie Balmer, a broker associate with Century 21 Unica Real Estate.
"It's a better market because it's not so volatile. It's not a buyers' market, it's not a sellers' market," she says. And it's very different than Phoenix or Las Vegas. "What I'm finding is that buyers coming from out of state think that our market is like some of the other markets that have been depressed. They'll offer 15 percent less than the asking price and it just doesn't work that way here.
"Compared to 10 years ago before the boom, Albuquerque is the same as it was in that it is steady, it's not going crazy. A good agent would have two or three closings a month. In 2005, 2006 is when our market started taking off, when everybody else's was. I did 60 closings in one year by myself in 2006, then everything dropped off to slow and steady," she says.
As the housing recovery continues, the nation's housing economy seems to be dividing into different kinds of markets based on what happened during the boom and bust years. Without as far to climb since they never fell as hard as some, the first markets to rise above their peak prices of seven years ago are not the ones that soared to the top during the boom but rather those that neither peaked nor plummeted.
Steve Cook is managing editor of Real Estate Economy Watch, which was recognized as one of the two best real estate news sites of 2011 by the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Before he co-founded REEW in 2007, he was vice president of public affairs for the National Association of Realtors. In 2006 and 2007, he was named one of the 100 most influential people in real estate.