Home sales in Arkansas’ four largest markets during the first two months of 2013 are up more than 8%, and the value of homes sold are up more than 10%, according to The City Wire’s Arkansas Home Sales Report.

For the first two months of 2013, the number of homes sold in central Arkansas are up 10.6%, up 3.7% in the Jonesboro area and up 9.64% in Northwest Arkansas. Sales during the two-month period are down 6.4% in the Fort Smith area. Fort Smith metro sales are also down 0.52% compared to the first two months of 2011.

The City Wire’s Arkansas Home Sales Report captures home sales data in the state’s 14 most populated counties within the state’s four largest metro areas — Central Arkansas, Fort Smith area, Jonesboro/Northeast Arkansas and Northwest Arkansas. The report, which records closed sales, accounts for between 70% and 75% of total Arkansas home sales. The report counts the number of sales closed in January and February.

The total value of homes sold in the four markets during January and February was $366.379 million, up 10.48% compared to the 2012 period, and up 23.38% compared to the 2011 period. The average sales price of a home sold in the four markets during January and February was $156,506, up 2.27% compared to the 2012 period, and up 5.93% compared to the 2011 period.

The average days on market for a home in the four combined markets during January and February was 103.19, an improvement over the 107.95 during the same period of 2012.

THE REGIONAL PICTURE
Central Arkansas — Home sales
Jan.-Feb. 2013: 573
Jan.-Feb. 2012: 572
Jan.-Feb. 2011: 508

Fort Smith area — Home sales
Jan.-Feb. 2013: 111
Jan.-Feb. 2012: 125
Jan.-Feb. 2011: 94

Jonesboro area — Home sales
Jan.-Feb. 2013: 122
Jan.-Feb. 2012: 133
Jan.-Feb. 2011: 115

Northwest Arkansas – Home sales
Jan.-Feb. 2013: 405
Jan.-Feb. 2012: 378
Jan.-Feb. 2011: 323

The top five counties in terms of Jan.-Feb. 2013 home sales:
Pulaski — 523, up compared to 477 in 2012
Benton — 460, up compared to 456 in 2012
Washington — 325, up compared to 260 in 2012
Faulkner — 179, up compared to 134 in 2012
Craighead — 174, up compared to 169 in 2012

THE FEBRUARY PICTURE
Home sales during February in the four markets were up just 0.25%, well below the January increase of 15%. The value of homes sold in the four markets during February totaled $193.428 million, up 6.78% compared to February 2012, and up 26.07% compared to February 2011.

Jeff Collins, an economist for The City Wire, cautioned against reading too much into February sales figures. Market numbers, he said, can be skewed by many factors in any given month, adding that comparing year-to-year data reveals more about any trends that may be developing.

Still, Collins said the sluggish market growth in February is par for the course.

“I don’t think it’s very surprising,” he said. “The numbers reflect the economic data that’s coming out of the state.”

In other words, the unemployment rate in Arkansas is still high so slow homes sales growth makes sense. In January, the unemployment rate in Arkansas was 7.2%, down slightly from 7.3% in the same month last year. February marked 49 consecutive months that Arkansas’ jobless rate has been at or above 7%.

Collins said sales growth has trended upward since last year, but rapid growth is not likely until the unemployment rate drops and consumer confidence rises.

REGIONAL REPORTS
Sherlyn Blackwell, a Realtor with Fred Dacus Associates in Jonesboro, said she’s seen her activity drop through the first three months of the year and is hopeful that warmer, spring temperatures will attract more buyers.

“I blame it all on the unseasonably cold and nasty weather we’ve had,” she said when explaining why fewer buyers than expected have turned out in the first quarter of 2013. “No want wants to look (for houses) in conditions like that. … But, when the temperature warmed up, interest also picked up. I think we’re seeing a turnaround right now.”

Donna Goodner, a Realtor with Old South Realty in Benton, said she’s been busy this year.

“It felt like April or May to me,” she said, explaining that warm, spring months tend to attract buyers, whereas colder months like January and February do not.

Goodner said one explanation for increased activity might have to do with the potential redefinition of the areas of Saline County eligible for “zero down” loans under United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program. Currently, all areas of Saline County except for Benton were eligible for those mortgages. The definitions were supposed to change on March 27 to eliminate areas such as Alexander, Alexander, Bryant, Hot Springs Village, Salem and Shannon Hills.

Goodner said some buyers may have sought to purchase homes before changes were made. The new definitions have been postponed, but Goodner said finding out how long Rural Development loans will be available has been tricky for Realtors.

Vicki Briolat, agent with Crye Leike in Bentonvile, said as of mid-March she had closed enough deals in 2013 to earn a decent year’s income.

“We have been incredibly busy and March should also be another strong month with the number of pending transactions waiting to close,” Briolat said.

Paul Bynum of MountData.com reports 600 pending transactions in Northwest Arkansas at the end of February and agrees this is a leading indicator for strong future sales.

Kevin King, broker and franchise owner of Weichert King Realty Group in Fort Smith, said March is looking better for a region off a slow start.

“I have seen more higher-end home listings in recent weeks, but the number of overall listings remains fairly stable in the Fort Smith market at 600 homes for sale,” King said.

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The City Wire Staff