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Sales upswing Realtor optimism continues to grow in the midstate

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Strong fourth-quarter sales pushed nearly every county in Central Pennsylvania to double-digit increases in 2012, heightening Realtor optimism about market recovery.

"You can see the amount of people out and about coming to open houses. There is a lot more traffic," said Michael Pion, president of the Greater Harrisburg Association of Realtors.

The GHAR, which primarily tracks activity in a three-county area, posted the biggest sales increase for the year at 19.5 percent. The area's fourth-quarter sales alone were up 26.2 percent over the same quarter last year.

The 1,774 sales marked the highest fourth quarter since 2009. It was the area's sixth straight quarterly increase, according to historical data provided by the association.

"I really feel it's going to trend upward (in 2013)," Pion said. "I think we're starting to turn the corner a little bit."

Low interest rates and stable employment levels should keep local housing activity steady, he added. However, there is concern that the decline in new construction brought on by the housing market collapse and credit crunch could mean a supply shortage to meet growing demands.

Builders started on 780,000 homes in 2012, which was 28.1 percent above 2011, the U.S. Commerce Department said last month.

"2012 was a year of recovery," said Mike Julian, president of the Lancaster County Association of Realtors. "We saw consistent month over month growth compared to 2011 across all price ranges."

Lancaster County saw home sales increase 16 percent for the year.

"In 2010 and 2011, we saw some upper-level homes sitting. Now they are starting to move again," Julian said.

There were 319 sales in the $300,000 to $399,999 price class in 2012, compared with 198 in 2011, according to the association.

In 2012, 32.5 percent of Lancaster listings sold in 30 days or less. In 2011, that percentage was 29.8 percent.

"I think interest rates do play a part in it," Julian said. "I'm not looking at 2013 as a phenomenal year, but it should be a year of continued steady growth from 2012."

York County sales grew 10.6 percent in 2012.

"I think there was pent-up demand. I think interest rates helped buyers afford more house, which is great. Or afford a house," said Lee Trite, president of the Realtors Association of York and Adams Counties.

Trite said there is growing confidence within the agent community that 2013 is "the year we pull out of this."

"I'm hoping to see an uptick in pricing," she said.

Realtors are keeping an eye on qualified mortgage rules and the potential impact on buyers, Trite added.

Sally Weise, president of the Lebanon County Association of Realtors, said substantially higher interest rates and requiring greater down payments could hurt sales activity.

However, she said, consumer confidence seems to be up, and prices are coming back.

"It really did not slow down over the holidays like it seems to in most other years," Weise said. "As long as interest rates stay good, I think it's going to be a good year."

Lebanon County home sales were up 8 percent in 2012.

Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin County. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jasons@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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