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Buyers returning to housing market

Positive sales activity might be sign of things to come, agents say

The weather is to blame for so much that positives often are overlooked.

But maybe due to unseasonably warm winter weather — coupled with pent-up buyer demand, falling sale prices and a prolonged period of historically low interest rates — pending and completed home sales have been on the rise.

Time will tell if increased activity in residential real estate will continue, but the signs certainly are encouraging, midstate agents said.

“We’ve seen the bottom,” said Marti Garrett, president of the Greater Harrisburg Association of Realtors, which covers Cumberland, Dauphin and Perry counties.

Garrett, who also is the sales manager for Lemoyne-based RSR Realtors, said March was the company’s best March since 2007 with 77 transactions. In April, they posted 64.

There is increased foot traffic at open houses, phones are ringing a bit more and multiple offers on competitively priced homes are coming in, agents said.

“The buyer’s sense of urgency is increasing,” Garrett said.

Last month, the National Association of Realtors reported the number of contracts signed to purchase previously owned homes rose 12.8 percent in March compared to the previous year and to its highest level in nearly two years.

The pending home sales index, a leading indicator for the housing sector, was 101.4, the association said. It was 111.3 in April 2010.

Freddie Mac reported May 10 that the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage was 3.83 percent, down from its previous all-time record low of 3.84 percent set a week earlier. The 15-year fixed rate mortgage averaged 3.05 percent, also besting the record low of 3.07 percent set a week earlier.

“Our inventory had been way up,” said Amy Dellinger, president of the Lebanon County Association of Realtors and agent at Derry Township-based Brownstone Real Estate Co. “We’re starting to see more of a normalization.”

A very mild winter brought the March and April buyers out in January and February, she said.

With stabilizing unemployment rates comes increased confidence. Consumers also have been watching the interest rates and want to cash in before housing inventories fall back to healthy levels and prices start to go back up again, agents said.

“There is a sense of optimism in the market,” said Mike Julian, an agent with Manheim Township-based Re/Max Associates of Lancaster. “Our numbers are up percentage wise in pending sales compared to 2011.”

Julian lists a fair number of homes and said he has been getting more calls from potential sellers who believe the tide is turning on prices and days on market.

“We’re going to ride the wheel of optimism,” he said.

In some cases, sellers opted to rent if their home was listed for an extended period of time or they were unable to get the equity needed to apply to their next home, agents said. That continues to happen, real estate professionals have said anecdotally.

The cautious optimism also has spread to York County, where the market has gradually been going up.

“We haven’t seen big price increases. They have been level, but sales are going up,” said John LeCates, president of the Realtors Association of York and Adams Counties and agent for Morgan-Collins Inc. in Spring Garden Township. “I think that probably is the best thing for everyone.”

LeCates said he expects a bumpy but gradual rise in the local market.

“When you have a big shot up, you have a big shot down,” he said.

Competitive bidding on homes has not been like it was during the housing boom of 2005-07, but it’s definitely becoming more of the norm again, said Quentin Miller, president of the Lancaster County Association of Realtors and partner at Manheim Township-based Realty Select Inc., which does business as Coldwell Banker Select Professionals.

“If your house is priced properly for the market it’s in, it should sell in 30 to 60 days,” he said. “A seller coming out of the gate that has the right number on it is going to sell his house.”

Miller said he is expecting comparable sales volume — maybe a bit better — to 2011.

“Are we out of the woods yet? Nope,” he said. “While our inventory is still higher, keeping pricing where it is, it’s enough inventory to give the buyer choices. You have pent-up demand, low interest rates and the selection you have never had before.”

Central Pennsylvania housing market notes

Harrisburg region

(includes Cumberland, Dauphinand Perry counties)

• First-quarter home sales increased 18.6 percent compared to the same year-ago quarter. Sales of 1,387 units also was highest in four years for the quarter, representing a 13 percent improvement from 2009 sales, according to Central Penn Multi-List Inc.

• Homes under contract totaled 1,452 in the first quarter, the highest since the Multi-List began reporting pending sales in 2008.

• Median price was $149,000 in the first quarter, which was down slightly from last year. Prices continue to fall.

• Listings were 4,934 in the first quarter compared to 5,356 in the same year-ago quarter.


Lancaster County

• Since the beginning of 2010, the most settled units was 591 in June 2010, according to the Lancaster County Association of Realtors.

• April 2010 was the highest month for pending sales at 647. The second highest was in March at 485; the lowest was December 2010 at 236.

• Pending and completed sales were higher in January, February and March — 353 pending and 249 sales in January; 386 and 249 in February; and 485 and 357 in March — compared to the first three months of 2011. In those months, there were 288 pending and 218 sales in January 2011; 295 and 242 in February; and 416 and 297 in March.

• Listings increased each month during the first quarter of 2012 when compared to the same month in 2011. The association reported an 8.2 percent increase for the first quarter. From August 2011 to December 2011, the comparisons to 2010 were decreases.


Lebanon County

• Home sales have marginally improved in Lebanon County. In March, sales were 95 compared to 82 in March 2011, according to the Lebanon County Association of Realtors. In April, sales were 80 compared to 79 in the same year-ago month.

• Listings have decreased so far this year. In March, there were 1,311 compared to 1,446 in March 2011. In April, listings were 1,398 compared to 1,462 in the same year-ago month.


York County

• Realtors in 2011 sold 3,479 homes compared to 3,771 in 2010, according to the Realtors Association of York and Adams Counties. In 2009, sales were 4,046 for the year.

• For the first quarter of 2012, home sales were 1,073 in York County compared to 996 in the same year-ago period.

• Median price was $142,907 in 2011 compared to $153,000 in 2010. For the first quarter of 2012, the median price was $135,000 compared to $137,385 in 2011.

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