RealtyTrac released its first-ever Housing Market Recovery Index (Housing MRI), which shows metro area markets in upstate New York, southwest Florida and the Bay Area of Northern California are leading the housing recovery, while markets in northern Maryland, southeast Pennsylvania and downstate Illinois are lagging the furthest behind in the recovery. “The U.S. housing market has clearly shifted to recovery mode over the past 18 months, with home prices consistently rising and foreclosures falling closer to pre-housing bubble levels,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. “Still symptoms of the distress that plagued the housing market over the past seven years continue to linger, particularly in the form of a high percentage of underwater borrowers and distressed sales. This lingering distress is creating an uneven pace of recovery across different local markets.” The index was calculated based on seven different factors relating to the health of the real estate market: unemployment rate, underwater loans percentage, foreclosure activity percent change from peak, distressed sales percent of total sales, institutional investors share of total sales, cash purchases share of total sales, and median home price percent change from bottom. Those seven factors were indexed for each market with national averages as a baseline, and all seven indexes were averaged to calculate a total recovery index. RealtyTrac ranked 100 major U.S. metros based on this total recovery index, but data is available for more than 900 metro areas nationwide. “Median home prices have bottomed and are now rising in all 100 ranked markets,” Blomquist noted. “Likewise, foreclosure activity is past its peak in all 100 ranked markets — although foreclosure numbers have been rebounding recently in some areas where a more lengthy judicial process created a backlog of pent-up foreclosure activity.” Rochester, N.Y., topped the list of markets with the strongest signs of recovery thanks to below-average unemployment, underwater and distressed sales percentages, combined with above-average drops in foreclosure activity and increases in home prices. Similarly strong numbers in another upstate New York metro, Albany, helped that market post the third highest recovery index, slightly behind the southwest Florida market of Cape Coral-Fort Myers, one of the hardest-hit markets in the last seven years. Recovery in the Cape-Coral-Fort Myers market is being driven by strong home price increases, which are being fueled by a high percentage of cash and institutional investor purchases, along with sharp decreases in foreclosure activity. The Cape Coral-Fort Myers ranked second on the list despite an above-average percentage of underwater homeowners and distressed sales. Two markets in the Bay Area of Northern California ranked among the top 5 markets leading the recovery: San Jose at No. 4 and San Francisco at No. 5. Both these markets outperformed the nation for unemployment rate, underwater percentage, foreclosure activity decrease since peak, and median price increase from the bottom of the market. Institutional investor and cash purchases — both considered a positive indicator for the recovery index — were below the national average in both Bay Area metros, and this is likely because the relatively high median prices in these markets create a barrier for institutional investors and other cash buyers — not to mention buyers using financing to purchase. Along with New York and California, other states with two metros ranking among the top 20 markets leading the recovery were Colorado, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Wisconsin. Other states with metros in the top 20 were Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Illinois. The market recovery index in Baltimore was lowest among the 100 major metro areas ranked in the report thanks to underperforming numbers for all factors except for underwater percentage and cash purchase percentage. Although home prices have risen nine percent from the bottom in Baltimore, that is short of the 19 percent increase nationally. Similarly, foreclosure activity was down 26 percent from its peak in Baltimore, but that decrease is well below the 65 percent decrease nationally. The Maryland metro of Hagerstown-Martinsburg also posted one of the five lowest recovery index scores. Two metros in southeastern Pennsylvania posted total index scores that were in the five lowest among the 100 major metro areas ranked in the report: Allentown and Philadelphia. Although both had below-average percentages of underwater homeowners and distressed sales, both also underperformed in the areas of home price increases, foreclosure decreases, institutional investor and cash purchases, and unemployment rate. An 11 percent unemployment rate helped place Rockford, Ill., among the five lowest recovery index scores. The downstate Illinois metro area also underperformed in the areas of underwater homeowners, decrease in foreclosure activity, percentage of distressed sales and cash sales, and rebounding home prices. Three California metros posted recovery index scores among the 20 lowest despite above-average increases in home prices: Fresno, Visalia-Porterville, and Stockton. Unemployment rates above 12 percent, along with above-average percentages of underwater homeowners and distressed sales, lowered the index scores in these Central Valley California cities. Four Florida cities posted recovery index scores among the 20 lowest: Pensacola-Ferry Bass-Brent, Tallahassee, Ocala, and Port St. Lucie. All four cities had above-average percentages of underwater homeowners along with below-average participation by institutional investors.