Are we better off today than we were four years ago? That is the constant question on the eve of yet another tight presidential race. From the perspective of home prices, the answer is, as always, it depends on where you live. Some cities are faring far better than others, and some believe that home prices are not entirely finished correcting.
According to the widely watched S&P/Case Shiller Home Price Indices, home values in the nation's ten largest cities were down 2.4 percent from January 2009 through August 2012 seasonally adjusted. For the top twenty cities, they are down 3.7 percent seasonally adjusted.
These two composites, however, are still both off nearly 30 percent from the peaks in the summer of 2006.
Remember, also, that we saw a bump in home prices in 2010 from the Obama administration's home buyer tax credit. Home prices on the 20-city composite were up 1.5 percent in August 2010, not seasonally adjusted, from January 2009, but then of course they dropped again, and we are still, today, below that level of the tax credit surge. (Read More: Home Prices Rise, but Analysts See Pressure Ahead.)
So can an incumbent president win a second term when home prices are lower than they were when he took office? I asked S&P's David Blitzer:
"Our data go back to 1987 for the 10-City Composite, so there are a couple of hints — Bush-1 took office with the index at 77.99 In January 1989; in November 1992 it was 77.09, and he lost. In August 1992 (comparable to August 2012, our latest data point) the index was 77.76, also down by the slightest amount. Clinton, who was re-elected saw home prices rise from an index of 76.56 to 78.23 during his first term — up 2.2 percent over four years. The Clinton increase points out how large the price moves in the 2000s were. In the Carter years inflation was running close to double digits so home prices were most likely rising in nominal terms."
(Read More: Cities With the Most Affordable Homes.)
While S&P/Case-Shiller's top ten and top twenty city composites are basically flat since President Obama took office, the national quarterly index is up 2.6 percent not seasonally adjusted, and consumer confidence in home prices is higher than it has been.
"Consumers' average home price change expectation is 1.5 percent, consistent with recent periods and marking nearly a full year in which home price expectations have been positive," according to Fannie Mae's National Housing Survey, released in early October. "Thirty-seven percent of those surveyed expect home prices to go up in the next year, the highest level since the survey's inception in June 2010."
Confidence is up and national home price statistics are up, but 10.8 million, or 22.3 percent of all homeowners with a mortgage, owe more on that mortgage than their home is currently worth, according to CoreLogic. An additional 2.3 million borrowers have less than 5 percent equity in their homes, making it very difficult to move up or even out.
Still, all real estate is local, so take a look to see where you might be: