Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

City Tortoise Beats Housing Market Hare

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

City Tortoise Beats Housing Market Hare

Article excerpt

Almost 15 years ago, I described the irony of the typical Pittsburgher's outlook this way: Nothing ever changes around here and yet everything was somehow better before.

I don't remember any argument when I wrote that in 2001, and any time I'm stuck in traffic on the Parkway West - which seems like any time I'm on the Parkway West - I can still believe that nothing ever changes. But most Pittsburghers should be looking forward at least as often as they look backward these days, because it's hard to believe that nothing has changed when every time you turn around some national or international publication is pointing to our relative success.

The latest chart is from The Economist, the venerable British magazine that prefers to call itself a newspaper. The other day it offered an interactive chart headlined, "American house prices: reality check," which gave online readers the chance to compare 24 American metro areas to each other and to the nation at large.

Pittsburgh was among them. But where most places had home prices that soared and swooped like a ride at Kennywood, the blue line representing Pittsburgh had a slow, steady ascension akin to a worker climbing a set of city steps at the end of a long, hard day.

That's boring, I'll grant you. But it doesn't leave us stuck in neutral. It leaves us about even with the rest of the country in real estate appreciation since 1980, without having gone through the whipsaw rides.

The Economist chart begins with the first quarter of 1980, the dawn of a bleak decade for Western Pennsylvania. The implosion of the steel industry would spur tens of thousands to the Sun Belt to find work. But even in the early '80s, the dips in housing prices here were microscopic compared with more recent canyons of collapse in places such as Las Vegas and Phoenix, where booms had been closely tied to housing construction itself.

In a six-year stretch between 2006 and 2012, houses in Las Vegas lost more than 60 percent of their value. In Phoenix, prices fell by more than half. They've recovered some since, but they're still down 25 percent in Phoenix and 40 percent in Vegas since 2006, according to the Zillow figures in The Economist report. …

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