NWA home sales, prices improve during March

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 16 views 

The residential real estate market in Northwest Arkansas continues to show marked improvement with home sales rising 11.41% in March from the prior year.

Agents in Benton and Washington counties closed 527 home sales last month valued at more than $869 million, according to a recent report from MountData.com.

The story gets better because those homes selling are doing so at higher prices than a year ago.

Benton County reported a median home sales price of $144,000 in March, which equated to $73.40 per square foot. Today’s sellers got a 22% bump up in prices from those posted a year ago in Benton County.

Washington County also posted price increases with a median of $136,000 in March, a 28% hike from a year ago. The median price per square foot rose to $79.40 in March, from $67.50 a year ago.

Bob Downum, broker with Weichert Realtors, Downum Group in Springdale, said prices are moving up in part because there are fewer foreclosures competing and more people out shopping in general buying more expensive homes.

“There is a window of opportunity for sellers in certain prices without having to compete with foreclosed properties being held back by the ongoing litigation. We sold two houses last week that may not have ever gotten shown if there were foreclosures competing. We don’t know how long this window will stay open, but with rock-bottom interest rates there might not be a better time for some folks to sell and upgrade than right now,” Downum said.

In the local market, the largest percentage of homes sold this year were in the $75,000 to $100,000 price range, but there are also more homes selling above the $300,000 range than in prior years. Two homes sold this year were priced at more than $1 million.

Through the first full three months of 2012, Benton and Washington county agents sold 1,228 homes, up 8.57% from the prior year and a whopping 23.6% increase from 2010.

Economists say the local market is showing signs of strength as prices appear to have bottomed last year. But they also said the foreclosure litigation and backlog of properties still waiting to come on the market could throw a wrench in the seemingly smooth recovery.

Paul Bynum, analyst with MountData, said there are other positive signs to consider when assessing the local market recovery.

Inventory, a key component on the supply side of the market, looks very good with 3,300 existing homes listed for sale, down 27% from a year ago. There are 281 new homes listed for sale, this is down from 411 a year ago.

Bynum said there is a 9.3 month supply of existing homes, a bit weaker for buyers than a year ago, while the new home market is tight at 5.2 months.

Bynum said consumers are feeling a little more confident as indicated by stable measurements in both the Michigan Sentiment Index and the Consumer Confidence Index. But he cautions against too much optimism, saying unemployment rates and stagnant wage growth for consumers still present some threat to overall economy recovery.

South of Winslow, home sales in Crawford and Sebastian counties were mixed in March. Agents sold a combined 137 homes last month in the two-county area, down about 9.3% from the prior year.

Crawford County posted higher sales but declining prices, while Sebastian County showed more sales with slightly lower prices from a year ago.

There were 51 homes sold in Crawford County in March, compared to 46 a year ago. But the median price of $98,450 was 4.95% lower than a year ago.

For the first three months of 2012, agents closed on 130 homes sales in Crawford County, up 34% from the prior year. The median price of $100,000 or $66.70 per square foot is 4.26% lower than last year.

Sebastian County is neither way up nor way down but merely a near stable market compared to those north of it.

MountData reports there were 86 home sales in Sebastian County in March, down 14% from the prior year. In the full first quarter, home sales totaled 213 units with a value of $25.77 million, that was a 10.8% drop in units sold and 10.1% decline in total sale volume.

The median sales price among homes sold this year is $105,000, a 1.8% discount to prices from a year ago. Homes selling this year spent 118 days on market from listing to pending, five days longer than a year ago.

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