There was a story splashed across the business section of last week’s paper suggesting that the market might be heading into a “double-dip” housing recession based on the latest S&P Case-Shiller index report. What was ironic was that over the past week, the Coldwell Banker office managers met – most of whom were reporting that their local markets were revving up with great activity, and some markets with a real sense of urgency. What gives?

The paradox made suggests that a lot of people – consumers and real estate reporters alike – may not realize that such monthly reports as the Case-Shiller index and even the very popular market reports are really lagging indicators of the housing market. They are in effect old news by the time they are released. These reports are based on closed sales the previous month that actually began two or three months before in many cases.

Take the most recent Case-Shiller report: This study came from closed home sales – not in March or even February – but January. Those same transactions began when consumers agreed to buy the home perhaps as early as the fall. These kinds of reports are a very old “snapshot” of the housing market by the time they get to the news media. This would be like someone opening up their sports section last October and instead of seeing the Giants in the World Series, found Denver’s local heroes 10 games out of first because the paper was still reporting the July standings.

So what’s a better way to take the current temperature of the market? New sales or pending sales are a much more accurate assessment of what’s happening now because they are a forward-looking indicator. These are sales that have just occurred, but haven’t gone through the 30 days or 60 days necessary to complete escrow. New pending sales offer the best barometer of what’s happening at the moment regarding buyer confidence in the housing market; the transactions that will be reported by Case-Shiller a month or two from now.

And what’s encouraging is that all across Colorado, pending sales in March are outpacing the same total last year.

This is not to say that every community and every neighborhood in Colorado is seeing a revival in new sales. There are still slow areas that are still challenged, depending on the price point. And even within some cities, certain parts of the market are doing well while others might be soft. And the overall market will continue to be challenged by shadow inventory of distressed properties coming on the market.

But if only reading the lagging indicators like the Case-Shiller report you’d think the market is dropping off the cliff. Far from it. There is tremendous improvement in many parts of Colorado, and the state is not alone.

According to the National Association of Realtors, the pending home sales index for properties nationwide, a forward-looking indicator, rose 2.1 percent to 90.8, based on contracts signed in February, from 88.9 in January. Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist said, “Pending home sales have trended up very nicely since bottoming out last June, even with periodic monthly declines. Contract activity is now 20 percent above the low point immediately following expiration of the home buyer tax credit.”

The outlook wasn’t even across all regions, however. The PHSI in the Northeast fell 10.9 percent to 65.5 in February. In the Midwest the index rose 4.0 percent in February to 81.1. Pending home sales in the South increased 2.7 percent to an index of 100.3. While in the West the index rose 7.0 percent to 105.6 and is now 0.6 percent higher than February 2010.

“We may not see notable gains in existing-home sales in the near term, but they’re expected to rise 5 to 10 percent this year with the economic recovery, job creation and excellent affordability conditions providing confidence to buyers who’ve been on the sidelines,” Yun said.

One other thought when it comes to housing numbers: It’s important to take the lower median or average sale prices in monthly reports this time of year with a grain of salt.

In many markets throughout Colorado, REOs and short sales can make up as much as 20% to 30% of the entry level sales.  While typical homeowners might take a break from the holidays and list (or re-list) their property in January or February, banks don’t take any breaks in November and December. These listings stay on right through the holidays. So a greater percentage of available listings that sell are “distressed” properties at lower price points, bringing the median and average sales prices down for several months in the New Year.

Below is a market-by-market report from local offices:

Boulder— While the number of listings has dropped by 10% over the past two weeks in the marketplace the CB Boulder office experienced a 30% increase in listings over the same period.  For the month, CB Boulder will have listed in excess of 80 properties.  Sales have remained flat over the past two weeks.  Showings have decreased 12% however when asked, agents felt that their showings were increasing.

Colorado Springs— The market hit a bump in the road with showings dropping about 30% from the past few weeks.  It is steady during the week but on weekends it’s very slow.  Listings are steady and it looks like a lot of sellers are getting their homes ready to put on the market (agent feedback from prelisting calls).  Sales have been steady throughout the month & with interest rates still at an all time low, it should continue to be a great time to buy and or sell.

Southeast Metro—Looking back at the month of March, there are optimistic feelings about the real estate direction for 2011.  Sellers are now getting into the market with homes that are staged to show nicely and priced, for the most part, to reflect accurate data and market trends.  Buyers are feeling better about their choices in the market place with this influx of “new” inventory.  Mortgage rates are still better than they have been historically and buyers seem to be ready to purchase now rather than taking a chance on an upsurge in rates.  With the upcoming increase in mortgage insurance premiums for FHA buyers, which should take effect mid-April, those that need and want FHA financing should identify their new homes & lock their rates as soon as possible.  The upper end of the market is moving with homes on the market for a shorter period of time.  Showings of these homes have increased & buyers for these homes seem to be feeling a little more confident in the current economic conditions.  It should be a better spring season than seen in some time with a successful upcoming real estate season.

Denver Central— Well, it appeared that activity was really starting to pick-up momentum, but the last two weeks have dropped off from the first two weeks of March and the last two weeks of February.  It seems that all activity has flattened out.

Evergreen—Seventeen new listings have come on the market in March.  Listing inventory continues to increase as homes come on the market as the selling season gets into full swing.  Showing activity has rebounded following a decline in February due to severe cold & snowy weather and has spanned all price ranges and property types, totaling 295 showings and previews during the month.  Selling activity has also improved with four listings and twelve buyers being put under contract so far this month.  Properties that are priced competitively at the outset or are adjusted to the “sweet spot” will receive offers and in some cases, multiple offers while properties that are overpriced are shunned by the buyer pool.

Longmont— The Spring buying season has started… the showings on office listings are holding steady at a nice rate.  Homes being shown are in most price ranges.  Still not seeing a lot of activity in the $1,000,000 and up price range.  A number of agents are showing rural/acreage properties , need to put those horses somewhere.  Buyers, both investors and owner occupants, are looking at and buying HUD homes.  There are some great values with bank owned properties too.

North Metro— March has turned out to be an extremely busy month at the North Metro office.  Listing inventory is up as is the average sales price for the office.  The agents are set to close approximately 80 homes in March.  This is slightly down from last year at this time, but last year the Tax Credit was in play, which of course we don’t have this year.  Open House activity has increased as has the number of calls coming into the office.  Looking forward to an even better April.  Spring is definitely in the air.

Southwest Metro—Agents are very busy with buyers & sellers.  There has been a steady increase in listings and buyer contracts. Open houses have been great!  Several agents have picked up great leads and have had terrific activity.  Floor calls have resulted in several listings as well as a couple of buyers.  The most showing activity has been in the price range of $300,000 to $450,000. There are still short sales in several areas and these will be around for awhile.  Overall, the agents are busy & working hard to get listings priced to sell in our market place.

Denver West—There is competition from buyers who are purchasing in the $190,000 to $250,000 price range.  It appears that there is pent-up energy with sellers.  They are tired of waiting for the market to fully rebound & are deciding to place their homes on the market at this time.  Most are very realistic about their sale price.  Oftentimes, if the house is priced aggressively, the agent is able to generate more than one offer, which ultimately bumps up the sale price.  The buyer in the number one position acts diligently because they know there is a back-up offer behind them waiting to move into first place.  Traffic at open houses has increased.  Buyers have more confidence in the economy, know the interest rates are low and believe the prices are good.  There is more motivation on their part.

Conifer—Five new listings have gone on the market so far in March.  Inventory has stabilized as fewer homes are being withdrawn and both new and past sellers are beginning to put homes back on the market.  Showing activity continues to gain strength with 140 showings.  Selling activity is also increasing with five listings and two buyers being put under contract so far in March.

Loveland— The office is waiting and waiting for the location decision of the Aerospace & Clear Energy Manufacturing & Innovation Center (ACT) to be announced.  Loveland is a very viable candidate for the location.  Loveland would see a huge benefit should ACT locate here.  The art community in Loveland is gearing up with fund raisers and great exhibits in our many galleries in town.  New construction is happening in Loveland and there are great products at entry level pricing.  The time to buy is now!