Local home sales continue brisk pace

2012-11-04T06:00:00Z Local home sales continue brisk paceBy MATT OLBERDING / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

You know things are going well when a 15 percent gain actually represents slower sales. 

But such is the state of the Lincoln real estate market.

Local sales made through the Multiple Listing System were up 15 percent in the third quarter compared with the third quarter of 2011, according to statistics from the Realtors Association of Lincoln.

That's down from a 25 percent year-over-year gain in the second quarter but still leaves home sales 22 percent higher, year to date, than they were a year ago. That puts this year on track to be the best one for home sales since 2007.

"Things are going really well," said Miranda Watson, an agent with Woods Bros. Realty.

She said sales at Woods Bros. are up 17 percent for the year, "and that was well more than we expected."

Watson said a combination of factors, including low interest rates, an improved economy and more consumer confidence, is helping to drive sales.

Those factors, as well as a reduction in inventory, are also driving up prices.

As of Oct. 15, there were roughly 1,640 homes for sale through the local MLS, about 175 fewer than at the same time last year.

"There's just not very much for sale right now," Watson said.

The lack of inventory leads to bidding wars on certain homes -- Watosn said she's seen several homes get multiple offers -- and also drives up prices overall.

The local median price for sales of existing homes hit $131,000 at the end of the third quarter. That's the highest its ever been, beating the record set at the end of the second quarter.

The average sale price of all homes -- both existing and new -- sold in the first nine months of 2012 was $158,814, a nearly 7 percent increase over the same period in 2011.

Another bright spot in the market continues to be sales of new homes, which are up more than 30 percent through the first nine months of the year, compared with the same period in 2011, and also are on track to hit their highest levels since 2007.

Also, building permits for single-family homes and town homes, which are an indicator of how many new homes will wind up on the market, also are at their highest levels since 2007.

"Definitely, we're seeing a trend upward," said Mike Rezac, owner of Rezac Construction and president of the Home Builders Association of Lincoln.

Rezac, however, noted that a healthy market would have about twice as many sales of new homes.

"It's nothing to cheer about, but definitely the market is doing better," he said.

Rezac said the saving grace for the new-construction market has been the low interest rates, which offset cost increases for materials that have driven up new-home prices.

He said he worries that a rise in interest rates, which will have to come at some point, will stall the recovery.

"We're skating on thin ice," Rezac said.

Those selling existing homes seem a little more confident of continued prosperity.

Though pending sales -- those under contract but not yet finalized -- fell slightly in September compared with September 2011, preliminary numbers for October show a large increase.

And anecdotal evidence from real estate agents suggests that things aren't slowing down.

"The last month or two it's been extremely active, and that's great," said Kim Topp, managing broker of Prudential Ambassador Real Estate.

Watson, for her part, sees mostly green grass for the immediate future, especially with interest rates likely to remain near historic lows for the next couple of years.

"I know there's some uncertainty regarding the election," she said. "But whatever happens in the national economy, I still feel Lincoln's market is going to continue to have rising prices."

Reach Matt Olberding at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.

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