County home sales rise sharply, but prices dip

Home sales locally continued to ride a surging wave in the final quarter of last year, but brisk business didn't move the needle on the typical sales price, according to the latest numbers.

Single-family home sales in the fourth quarter were up more than 11 percent in New London and Windham counties over the same period a year previously. But the median price of $190,000 was unchanged from prices paid in the final quarter of 2012, according to statistics posted on the Eastern Connecticut Association of Realtors website.

The fourth quarter surge in sales, however, helped propel the region to its best performance in single-family real estate volume since the Great Recession of 2007-09. Last year, more than $755 million in single-family homes sold in the region.

"You have to go back to 2007 to get a higher volume," said John Bolduc, chief executive of the local Realtors association, which tracks New London and Windham counties.

For the year, the two counties posted a 13.2 percent increase in sales. But the median price fell to $193,000 from $198,450 the year before.

The two counties, both up by double digits in sales, diverged when it came to prices. While New London County's single-family median fell by 6.2 percent, Windham County saw a 1.5 percent increase in prices.

Bolduc said the pattern may reflect an improving labor market in Windham County even as the jobs situation in New London County continues to lag. "People buy where they need to buy," he said. "They buy where the jobs are."

Year-end statistics also showed condo sales surging locally, up more than 14 percent. But the median price of $126,000 last year fell by nearly 5 percent.

Mobile home and multifamily real estate sales also grew by double digits - as did prices for both. The median mobile home price last year was $29,950, up nearly $5,000 from the year before; the multifamily median was up nearly $10,000 to $99,000.

"I think we can look forward to overall improvement in all the markets," Bolduc said as he looked forward to 2013. "I think we're overcorrected."

Bolduc said the real estate market's performance has been held up somewhat by new rules making it harder for potential buyers to qualify for a loan. His association in March will be holding a series of seminars to show people in the region how they can boost their credit scores to more easily qualify. "Your credit score affects everything you do, not just homebuying," he said. "Our goal is to get people in a better position."

Bolduc said getting people into a home in the next few months will save them money if, as predicted, mortgage rates rise about 5 percent by the end of the year. He pointed out that rates are currently significantly below the interest paid on mortgages in 1974, when he started in the business.

"What can you buy today for less than you paid in 1974?" he said. "Nothing. But you can buy money."

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