Area real estate market slowly improving

Published 6:46 pm Friday, December 4, 2009

Despite some gloomy statistics, there is still reason for some optimism in the local real estate market based on data from the Polk County Assessor and the Planning Office as well as interviews with area realtors and mortgage lenders.While total real estate sales are still about 40 percent of what they were in 2007 looking for bright spots the number of sales at least have trended up quarter over quarter this year. From the months of last winter through the months of this fall, the number of higher priced houses sold and total sales volume increased. Housing start numbers are recovering in nearby counties, reaching nearly 60 percent of supercharged 2006 levels in Buncombe County, a trend which should eventually reach Polk County, which is at about 30 percent.The inventory of unsold houses in the Tryon-Polk Association of Realtors Inc. Multiple Listing Service area is down by two thirds. There are currently 109 houses on the market, down from 329 houses listed for sale in the Tryon-Polk MLS area at this time last year, though Realtors point out that some of those houses which were for sale last year were simply pulled off the market and will be back on the market when conditions improve. The total number of residential sales dropped only 5 percent from last year. In the first ten months of each year, 219 homes in the Tryon-Polk MLS were sold in 2007, dropping to 112 in 2008 and 107 this year. However, the median price of the homes sold this year dropped from $210,750 to $170,000 and the number of days a house remained on the market grew from 164 days to 210. Total sales volume for the ten months dropped from $67.9 million in 2007, to $31.6 million in 2008 and dropped again to $24.4 million this year.Land sales dropped from 110 sales in 2007, to 46 in 2008 to 23 this year, and total land sales volume went from $23.5 million, to $8.4 million to $2.2 million, according to the Tryon-Polk MLS.Housing starts, which normally recover later than sales of existing homes, appear to have bottomed out in Polk County and other adjacent counties. Most counties in the region are now at double the rate of their slowest quarter. At the current rate of housing starts seen from July to September, Polk is seeing about 30 percent of its record 2006 rate. Buncombe Countys housing market has performed the best, seeing housing starts improve dramatically in 2009 to 58 percent of its excellent year in 2006. Rutherford and Spartanburg counties are at 35 percent of 2006 housing start levels, while Greenville County is at 28 percent and Henderson County is at 16 percent.While new single family dwelling permits are down, Polk County building inspector Steve Jones said renovations and additions are up. Polk County issued 44 residential building permits between January 1 and the end of November 2009, down from 88 total permits in all of 2008, dropping an average of nearly ten per month.Local mortgage lending activity is still very slow, although improving. Many of the purchases in 2009 have been outright cash transactions, according to area Realtors and bankers, indicating that wealthy individuals are taking advantage of a buyers market to get some deals. Local mortgage lenders are making use of all the options they have available to assist home buyers in finding mortgages that are a good value. According to Beverley Hudson with Carolina First Bank, There is no doubt that the low interest rates of the past year have helped home buyers.&bsp; Mountain 1st Bank mortgage officer Mike Fischer said last year his business was primarily in refinancing existing mortgages. That has shifted this year to financing new purchases, he said. Many home owners have been able to take advantage of the Federal Stimulus program which allows them to refinance their mortgage balance at the current lower interest rates and a longer term without new appraisals and proof of income.Local Realtors interviewed said another area of concern is the continued number of distress sales, such as foreclosures. Although these can help to remove homes from the market, they have put negative pressure on prices and hindered foreclosed owners ability to purchase another property. Because distress sales are very much related to the owners financial situation, these are expected to continue until employment recovers.Ellen Glass, a Realtor with Carolina Properties, cites some positive signs in affordability of homes for buyers using low interest rates and tax credits. &bsp;The Tryon-Polk County Board of Realtors reports that their multiple listing services (MLS) currently has 109 residences on the market in Polk County, Landrum and Upper Greenville County. Of these, 72 have been listed for more than 120 days (four months). In recent years, the residential real estate market statistics in this area have been driven by large new developments and the out of town buyers they attract. When the housing bubble burst in hot markets elsewhere in the country, those buyers all but disappeared.&bsp; The housing starts drop off began in late 2006/early 2007.Polk County approved 19 subdivision lots so far this year, down from 115 new subdivision lots in 2008 and 487 lots in 2007.Realtors and bankers say some of the markets that send buyers to this area have started to stabilize, giving hope to the local market. In addition, the stock markets dramatic rebound will probably have a significant impact. The buyers who have started to come back are either looking for a steal, or are definitely ready to buy based on their plans for retirement, according to Todd Garland, a realtor with Jim Smith & Associates. &bsp;Because of the reduction in out-of-town buyers, local people who are either upgrading or downsizing have made up much of the recent sales, those interviewed said.Editors note: The sales data presented in the chart on page 3 represents those transactions which the Polk County Assessors Office has analyzed and determined to be free of unusual circumstances. The sales which can be used to determine assessments must not be unusual, such as foreclosures or sweetheart deals. This is required by law in order to ensure that the assessments are based solely on normal transactions. &bsp;The data show a marked improvement in both the number of sales and their values. Sales for large tracts (&t;10 acres) and more valuable properties (&t; $200,000) indicate that it is the low and mid-valued properties which are beginning to sell. The very high end properties have not appeared to rebound yet.The early November update to the stimulus provision providing the $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers extended the timeframe to April 30, 2010 and added a tax credit of up to $6,500 for current and previous homeowners.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox