The US Housing Downturn - four years and counting

What a difference four years can make.

In 2007 I visited Chicago to see what was supposed to become the world's tallest residential building, the Chicago Spire. It was a project by an Irish developer, designed by a Spanish architect, in a US housing market that was beginning to falter. Destined to fail? In retrospect, yes, although at the time it was merely the latest excess story of the hotter-than-hot global property market.

Savills, my host at the time, ticked me off for writing this story before I visited. It mentioned the US downturn and it was published before the press trip, which meant I was somewhat persona non grata for some of the time there. I was certainly less popular than the British property journalist who delighted the developer and agent, and amazed the rest of us, by putting his name down for a flat in the building on the strength of the tour of the foundations - and against the advice of almost every other hack.

Needless to say, the Chicago Spire has not been built and my trip to the city last week was a more sober affair - and not just because I was buying my own drinks and paid for my own room at the Drake Hotel.

- House and hotel building is largely suspended, with the empty unfinished riverside shell of the ShangriLa in downtown Chicago a vivid example of the downturn;

- Foreclosures across the US rose from 918,376 in 2009 to 1,050,501 in 2010, meaning two million families or individuals have lost their homes in two years;

- A survey by the National Assocition of Realtors and CNN shows median house prices across the US down 29 per cent since their 2006 peak;

- New homes are routinely adverrtised as 30 per cent off in a bid to shift ageing empty stock;

- Meanwhile, in a country largely characterised as still in recession, spending on remodelling (Americanese for improving your existing home rather than buying a different one) is up 9.1 per cent on early 2010.

Downturn? The US housing market is still in the throes of it...with no real sign of an improvement yet.

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