Before the coronavirus recession, Utah’s housing market was on fire. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, which sent residents of Northern California and Seattle in search of affordable homes and more space, and an already-hot market grew hotter.

Dave Robison, past president of the Utah Association of Realtors, sums up the activity simply. “It’s insane,” says Robison, a real estate broker in Salt Lake City.

His assessment isn’t just salesmanship. Utah home prices have been soaring as Californians stream into the state. Utah boasts the nation’s strongest pace of job growth, along with rock-bottom unemployment, few mortgage delinquencies and low state and local taxes.

All those factors pushed Utah into first place in Bankrate’s Housing Heat Index when it debuted in 2020. Utah continues to hold the top spot for the first quarter of 2022. Residential real estate has boomed during the coronavirus recession, and Utah has emerged as a particularly desirable market.

Other states in the Mountain time zone also are thriving. Montana, Arizona and Nevada rank second, fourth and eighth, respectively, in Bankrate’s index.

At the opposite end of the list is Louisiana, where price appreciation is among the slowest in the nation and mortgage delinquencies are among the highest. Hawaii — a state that was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic — climbed from the bottom of Bankrate’s ranking. It rose from dead last in the first-quarter ranking to 12th in the index based on winter economic data.

The 5 states with the hottest housing economies

The Housing Heat Index shows how states’ real estate markets are faring in the coronavirus-fueled housing boom, and how they might perform in the future. To calculate the ranking, Bankrate analyzed six data points: annual home price appreciation, share of mortgages past due, unemployment, annual job growth, statewide cost of living index and state-by-state tax burdens.

These five states had the strongest housing economies in the first quarter of 2022:

1. Utah — Its home values jumped 26.8 percent in the 12-month period that ended March 31, third-best among U.S. states, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Utah posted the lowest unemployment rate in the nation in March 2022, according to a Bankrate analysis of Labor Department data. What’s more, Utah’s tax burden is among the lowest in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation.

2. Montana — Home values climbed 25 percent, and Montana posted top-five finishes in past-due mortgages, job growth and tax burden.

3. Florida — The Sunshine State’s home values jumped 30 percent, job growth is strong and taxes are low.

4. Arizona — Home values surged 28 percent, best in the nation, and few homeowners have fallen behind on their loans.

5. Tennessee — Home values are up 26 percent, job growth is strong and cost of living is moderate.

Homebuyers seek affordability, space

The prominent rankings of states in the Mountain time zone illustrate a shift in the housing market: Americans are still drawn to healthy labor markets, but even before the coronavirus pandemic, they were growing less willing to pay up to live in places like San Jose, Seattle and Boston.

COVID-19 has pushed many — especially those who can work remotely — to leave the priciest areas for more affordable regions.

“We are seeing the makings of a renewed affordability migration,” says Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo. “The beneficiaries of that shift have largely been the midsized metros in the mountain states of the West.”

The median price of a single-family home sold in Silicon Valley during the first quarter was a whopping $1.88 million, according to the National Association of Realtors. The typical price in Salt Lake City was $556,900 — above the national median, but not dramatically so, and just a fraction of the price paid by residents of Northern California.

The price gap has spurred many in high-cost markets to consider moving. The notion is especially appealing to workers who can take their high-wage jobs to areas with lower costs of living.

“People suddenly have the ability to choose where they live, because they’re not tethered to an office,” says Alicia Holdaway, an agent at Summit Sotheby’s International Realty in Draper, Utah, and past president of the Salt Lake City Board of Realtors. “We’ve had a net in-migration that’s been happening for years, and that’s only increased.”

Every boom brings its disadvantages, of course. In some cases, new arrivals to Utah’s housing market are flush with cash and willing to bid up prices.

“There’s always a flip side,” Holdaway says. “We’ve been seeing housing affordability become a crisis.”

The 5 states with the coolest housing economies

As a nationwide housing boom rages, every state saw property values increase during the 12 months that ended in September. However, some state economies are struggling with weak job growth and other challenges. The bottom five on our index:

47. Connecticut — This state posted poor showings across the board.

48. Washington, D.C. — The district’s score was brought down by weak appreciation, high unemployment and a hefty tax burden.

49. Alaska —Tepid job growth and high unemployment weighed down the northernmost state.

50. Maryland — The state posted comparatively weak appreciation of 11 percent, along with a high level of past-due loans and a sputtering job market.

51. Louisiana — It ranks worst in past-due loans, with 6.8 percent of homeowners behind on their mortgage payments. Louisiana also fares poorly on price appreciation, job growth and tax burden.


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