March 24, 2009 in Business

Home sales rising in West

Low prices, mortgage rates boost market for previously owned houses
From Staff And Wire Reports
 

Sales of previously occupied homes in the West climbed in February as low mortgage rates and cheap foreclosed properties drew in many first-time buyers and investors, according to two reports released Monday.

A total of 68,000 existing homes and condos were sold in February in the 13-state region. Sales were up 24 percent from the same month last year, without adjusting for seasonal factors, according to the National Association of Realtors. Nationally, sales of existing homes grew 5.1 percent to an annual rate of 4.72 million last month, from 4.49 million units in January, the group said.

Sales of foreclosed homes helped drag down the region’s overall median home sales price by about 19 percent to $269,900, the association said.

Nationally, existing home sales dropped 10 percent from February of last year, while the U.S. median home price declined about 16 percent to $165,400.

In Southwestern markets where sharp price increases during the housing boom have turned to steep declines, foreclosures continued to drive sales.

Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego and San Francisco were the only major metros in the West to register an increase in home sales, according to the Associated Press-Re/Max Monthly Housing Report, released Monday.

But they were among the top 10 U.S. metros to post the sharpest median price declines last month, according to the report, which analyzed all home sales recorded in the metropolitan statistical areas by all local agents, regardless of company affiliation.

Prices rose in only two cities: Anchorage, Alaska, and Billings.

In Seattle, where sales plunged 40 percent last month and the median sales price slid nearly 14 percent to $299,000, sellers have had it tough.

The average time on the market for a home in the metro area still exceeds 100 days.

But Michael Steenberg managed to sell a three-bedroom, two-bath home in the suburb of Arlington about 30 miles outside Seattle in just under two months.

“I had a renter in there and he had lost his job and had to move, so we decided we’d just sell the property,” said Steenberg, 58.

The home sold last month, but Steenberg had to lower his $265,000 asking price to $246,750. “We just decided to get the cash,” he said, “put a little cash in the bank and have a little comfort zone.”

Spokane Realtors said warmer weather has been bringing out more buyers, with calls into their offices doubling and open houses attracting more foot traffic.

The Spokane Association of Realtors reported the sale of 194 homes during February at an average price of $197,016, off less than 1 percent from February 2008. The median price was $171,654, off 3 percent.

Neil Johnson, broker at Coldwell Banker, said an $8,000 federal income tax credit for first-time buyers, coupled with mortgage rates below 5 percent, could trim the equivalent of one year of payments for those who stay in their homes at least five years.

Sellers, he said, are coming off their asking price only slightly as they see the market improve. Three of six homes included in a recent market analysis for the Shadle Park area sold within a week of the survey, he said.

Jeanette Karis of RE/Max, the Spokane Association of Realtors president this year, said down payment help from the Washington Housing Finance Commission for those financing through the Federal Housing Administration has also been helpful for new buyers. If their credit records are clean, she said, buyers are not having problems getting a mortgage.

If the March report on the Spokane market reflects the same upswing in activity that occurred between January and February, 2009 could be a good year after a sluggish 2008, Johnson and Karis said. “I think we’re in a pretty good position to pop,” Johnson said.

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