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The region's single-family home market turned in a mixed result in the first three months of this year, with sales up and prices on a downswing, according to statistics released Tuesday by the Eastern Connecticut Association of Realtors.
First-quarter numbers in the association's territory covering New London and Windham counties indicated that single-family sales rose about 5 percent during January through March when compared with the same period last year. But the median home price fell from $188,000 in the first quarter of last year to $179,900 this year, a decline of more than 4 percent.
"We're still not out of the woods," said John Bolduc, chief executive officer of the local Realtors association.
Bolduc pointed out, however, that single-family home sales and prices rose in tandem last year for the first time in nearly a decade. In that context, he said, the first quarter could be seen as just "a bump in the road" on the way to improving conditions, especially considering the blizzards that hit the region during the winter.
An indication of improvement, he said, is that the spread of home prices is branching out so that higher-end properties are beginning to sell. Last quarter alone, three $1 million-plus homes sold in the region, he said, and another report said a $5 million property just went under deposit in North Stonington.
Paul Higgins, an agent for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in East Lyme and president of the Realtors association, added that 631 properties are currently under deposit in New London County, much higher than the 400 to 500 that has been typical over the past few years.
Another indication of a stabilizing market, he said, is that deals are being concluded without appraisers disagreeing over valuations placed on properties. Foreclosures are working themselves out, he said, and banks no longer have a "shadow inventory" of unsold homes that used to be a drag on the market.
With interest rates poised to increase in the next year or so, "This is a good time to get in the market," he added.
Bolduc's organization does not release monthly numbers, but a report this week by Les Bray, owner of Sound Investment Consultants in Stonington, showed that single-family home sales and prices in New London county were lower in March compared with the same period in 2012. Sales were down 13 percent, Bray's report showed, while a median priced home shed more than $6,000.
Bray, who said he scrubs through Multiple Listing Service numbers to remove duplicates, also reported that New London County's sales and median prices both fell in the first quarter of this year.
Bray's statistics showed single-family sales down 1 percent and median prices off nearly 6 percent.
Bray said he feels as if the local real estate market may be slowing down, and job losses at the local casinos and Pfizer Inc. could be to blame.
"It's causing people to have less confidence than they had last year," he said.
While single-family sales in New London and Windham counties were a mixed bag in the first quarter, the local condominium market showed weakness on two fronts, with both sales and prices down in the first quarter compared with the same period last year. Sales, down by 27 percent, were particularly hard hit, while the $135,000 median price was off by only $1,000 from last year's number in the first quarter.
Bolduc of the Realtors association said continuing weakness in condos is related to stricter Federal Housing Administration rules, which make it more difficult for potential homeowners to acquire financing.
Two positive notes in this year's first quarter were increased sales and prices for multifamily homes and a significant pickup in commercial real estate activity throughout eastern Connecticut.
Multifamily sales rose 20 percent on a quarter-over-quarter basis in New London and Windham counties, according to the Realtor association's newly posted numbers. The median price of $93,500 for multifamilies was up by a third from the $70,000 median seen in the first three months of last year.
"There's a lot of investors in the market," Bolduc said.
Commercial real estate activity also posted impressive gains, with overall volume more than doubling and prices nearly doing the same.
Residential land prices were seeing a boost as well, with the median price for a plot rising from $43,500 in the first quarter of last year to $65,000 for the same period this year. Sales numbers, however, were nearly flat.
Mobile home sales, while down, came with increased prices on a quarter-over-quarter basis. The median price of a mobile home shifted from $25,000 in the first quarter of last year to $32,750 in the same period this year.
Real Estate Sales in First Quarter 2001, New London and Windham counties
Single-family home sales: 567, up 5 percent
Single-family median price: $179,900, down 4.3 percent
Condominium sales: 51, down 27.1 percent
Condominium median price: $135,000, down 0.7 percent
Multifamily homes sales: 66, up 20 percent
Multifamily median price: $93,500, up 33.6 percent
SOURCE: Eastern Connecticut Association of Realtors