Home sales showing signs of life

Home sales in eastern Connecticut were hotter than the weather during the key spring selling season, according to new statistics released by the Eastern Connecticut Association of Realtors.

“There’s a lot more buyers looking,” Carol Christiansen of Re/Max Realty Group in Gales Ferry said. “The low interest rates (in the 3 percent to 4 percent range for many buyers) are still driving people.”

Single-family home sales in New London and Windham counties rose more than 18 percent in the second quarter compared with the same period last year, the association’s latest numbers show. And median home prices are creeping up as well, rising from $190,500 a year ago to $197,500 during the April-through-June period this year.

New London County’s statistics were even more impressive, with sales up 22 percent and prices rising to a median of $227,450. This compares with Windham County, where sales rose nearly 11 percent but prices slumped to a median of $158,050.

“It shows the market is picking up,” said John Bolduc, chief executive officer of the local Realtors association. “There’s been a wider spread of sales across a higher price range.”

Bolduc said nine homes sold above the $1 million level last quarter, indicating that the luxury and move-up markets are coming alive again. Overall, though, higher-range homes still are lagging the rest of the market, which Bolduc said is nearing a normal six-month inventory, meaning it would typically take six months to sell all the homes on the local market.

“It’s all a matter of supply and demand,” he said. “With low interest rates and increased demand, there’s only one way prices will go (up).”

A report by the Center for Real Estate and Urban Economic Studies at the University of Connecticut released Wednesday didn’t make home-price predictions, but it did find that housing markets throughout the state have stabilized this year.

“The brightest spots in the second quarter of 2012 were in the Enfield and Norwich-New London areas, where single-family house prices made modest gains,” the report said.

But the UConn study also warned against reading too much into the apparent real-estate rebound in the state, since it partially could reflect warmer weather this year compared to 2011. Higher sales also could be the result of an “echo effect” from an enhanced homebuyer tax credit program in 2010 boosting sales, while the lack of credits depressed markets last year, the report said, thereby making 2012 statistics look artificially good.

But whatever the reason, Christiansen, the Gales Ferry agent, said, she has seen more homeowners willing to list their properties this year than during the past few years.

“I think there’s more confidence from a seller’s standpoint right now,” she said. “They feel if a house is priced correctly, it’s not going to sit.”

Relatively good news on the national front hasn’t hurt, either, including a report Wednesday that U.S. builders started more new homes and apartments last month than at any time in almost four years.

“The public has determined we have hit the bottom,” Christiansen said.

The real estate market wasn’t as kind to condominium owners during the spring, who saw sales slump by nearly 24 percent compared with the same period a year ago. Condo prices also fell, from $145,000 a year ago to $125,000 in the most recent quarter.

Bolduc said condo losses were related to new Federal Housing Administration rules that have kept some condominium associations from being recognized legally. Among the requirements, he said, was a stipulation that associations be approved only if they kept the percentage of delinquent dues-paying members to a minimum.

Without an approved condo association, people trying to sell their units often are unable to do so, Bolduc said.

On the other hand, he said, the sale of multifamily homes and land has been looking up, which can be a harbinger of better days in the real estate and building industries. The latest numbers show multifamily sales rising 12.9 percent in the quarter compared to the same period a year ago, while land sales climbed 12.5 percent.

The local single-family market is still off the boom years of 2003-2006, when more than 1,000 homes were sold during the spring season, but sales at least have seen an up trend over the past two quarters. The number of spring homes sold this year topped any similar period since 2007, except for a bump seen in 2009 when the first round of federal tax incentives brought out first-time homebuyers.

“I think the market is improving,” Bolduc said. “We’ve had two good quarters. One more, and then we have a trend.”


New London County single-family home sales

Second quarter 2012 vs. 2011

552 vs. 452 (+22.1%)

Volume: $145.8 million vs. $127.1 million (+14.8%)

Median price: $227,450 vs. $212,000 (+7.3%)

Days on market: 121 vs. 103 (+17.5%)


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