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Editorial: A slow housing rebound

The slow recovery of housing since 2008, nationally and locally, has continued to punish the U.S. economy. A respected national study finds that when house prices fall, household spending drops. When the housing sector rebounds, it will put pep back in the economy.

Realtors in our region say they see good signs for housing in 2013. We hope they are right, but there are reasons to be cautious.

While sales of existing homes rose 13.5 percent in Hampshire County in 2012 over the year before, and while buyers paid prices slightly closer to what sellers asked, average and median home prices fell slightly from 2011.

Time is teaching homeowners who bought at high prices here in the Valley that the market values their properties differently today.

It’s a hard lesson, but it is one that people have to learn for the market to find balance and stability.

For most Americans, the home is a primary investment. When its value drops, people feel poorer — and that influences their spending on everyday things, a pattern supported in the study by professors at the University of California at Berkeley and Yale University.

It cuts two ways. In the years leading into the housing bubble, a lot of Americans felt pretty wealthy. From 1997 to 2006, the nation saw an astounding, and unsustainable, 86 percent rise in home prices. Those price gains had turned upside down by last year.

Here in the Valley, where the housing market never got as bad as in places like Florida and the Southwest, the recovery is a little flatter. Experts locally suggest that, in time, demand for existing single-family homes will start to test the supply. That is when prices will start to gain ground.

For now, the sales volume itself is welcome news, for it shows people are qualifying for mortgages and sellers are ready to deal. One area broker says December was unusually busy. The reverse was the case nationally, according to a recent Associated Press story. Sales dropped in December from November, mainly because the supply of homes had fallen nationally to an 11-year low.

New people in homes they can afford and whose values are market-tested? That is good economic news.

Marcus Camby: Fan favorite

As he stepped onto the basketball court Jan. 19 with his wife and children, Marcus Camby seemed tentative, as if he wasn’t sure what to expect from the packed Mullins Center at the University of Massachusetts.

If there were doubts, they were dispelled quickly as fans took to their feet for a rousing welcome and remained standing for most of the 15-minute halftime ceremony honoring Camby.

It was a love fest for the big man, who led UMass to NCAA tournaments in 1994 and 1995 and to the Final Four in 1996, when he earned All-America and National Player of the Year honors.

Camby, now 38, left UMass in his junior year to turn pro. He expects to add a few more years to an NBA career that has already spanned 17.

The ceremony was held to retire his number, 21, to recognize his contribution to the basketball program. Teams only retire the jersey numbers of special players and until this month there were only four retired numbers on the wall of the Mullins Center: Those of Al Skinner, George “Trigger” Burke, Lou Roe (who played with Camby) and Julius Erving.

At the end of his college playing days Camby ran afoul of NCAA rules for accepting money from a prospective agent while still a student athlete. Camby, who grew up poor in a housing project in Hartford, admitted the mistake. The NCAA officially “vacated” the Final Four appearance for the Minutemen, and UMass was forced to return the TV revenue from the games, money Camby repaid from his NBA earnings.

The incident created awkwardness between Camby and UMass for years. His friend and former teammate Derek Kellogg, now the Minutemen coach, helped thaw the ice.

Sporting a maroon tie with the university logo, Camby told Gazette reporter Matt Vautour that it meant a lot that UMass honored him despite the NCAA incident. And he was visibly moved by the occasion, his voice catching just a bit when he spoke of the pride of having his jersey hang next to boyhood hero Julius Irving. He described it as “an extreme honor. I never thought something this special could happen to a guy like me.”

Camby was always a fan favorite, and fans, who reveled in video highlights from his UMass career, welcomed him home to the program he helped put on the map and the place that launched his professional career.

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