In the News
EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA
February 27, 2012
N.H. home sales on slow upward climb
By John Toole
New Hampshire home sales are coming off their best January in five years, up 20 percent from last year.
Rockingham County, meanwhile, saw home sales increase in January for the third year, up 36 percent.
It's too soon to call a bottom to the market or predict a turnaround, but it is an encouraging sign, according to local real estate professionals.
"Although it's human nature to look for that one defining month that signals to everyone that the recovery in the housing market is afoot, that's just not the nature of this economy," said John Rice, New Hampshire Association of Realtors president.
Economists say the country is probably at the start of a slow, upward climb, he said.
"We're happy to report positive news in terms of the market, but we also need to be clear about the context," Rice said. "Right now, the context is that we've had positive conditions compared to last year."
There were 656 single-family homes sold in New Hampshire last month, up from 549 in January 2011.
In Rockingham County, there were 154 sales, compared to 113 a year ago. That was the highest number since 2007.
Rockingham County's 36 percent increase lagged only behind Sullivan County at 108 percent, and Belknap County at 45 percent.
Statewide, the median price of homes sold was $198,500 in January, down 4 percent from $207,000 a year ago.
Rockingham County saw a 2.5 percent increase in the average sales price, from $249,900 to $256,250.
"Pricing is just a little bit behind sales, because of market factors," NHAR spokesman Dave Cummings said.
"Once the inventory starts coming down, you'll see pricing creep up."
Foreclosures remain an issue. The state Housing Finance Authority said there were 368 in December, the highest since the authority started reporting them in 2005.
Cathy Stacey, Rockingham County's register of deeds, told the county legislative delegation last week that there were 63 foreclosures in January, up from 39 in January a year ago.
"I'm seeing a real increase," Stacey said.
The state Attorney General's Office recently reached a settlement with five major banks that could bring more foreclosed properties to market, she said.
That absolutely would affect prices by boosting inventory, Stacey said.
"That's going to free up a lot of foreclosures that have been in stall mode," Stacey said.
The positive sales trends are reflected in local communities.
"We're seeing good, healthy sales," broker Linda Roberts of Linda Roberts Realty & Associates of Salem said.
"The fear factor is obviously dissipating. There are indications people are saying enough is enough. Let's move forward and do what we have to."
That shows up when people are choosing to buy homes that will accommodate multi-generations, such as an older in-law or a child between college and a job.
"People have needs," Roberts said. "When things get rough, people get more creative. Everyone contributes."
She said she is seeing movement among homes priced for the middle class, which she attributes to people's perception of the economy.
"People are more comfortable they will be able to hold on to their jobs," Roberts said.
Broker Brad Dinsmore of Prudential Dinsmore Associates said the numbers are improving in Windham.
"For the first six weeks in Windham, we're up 100 percent over last year, from five to 10 (sales)," Dinsmore said.
While the weather was great for people to shop in January, Dinsmore didn't see that driving sales.
"Most of those were booked in November and December," he said. "That shows that sales were strong at the end of the year."
Encouraging to Dinsmore is that sales of high-end properties are showing price appreciation.
"The average sale in Windham went from $350,000 to $400,000," he said.
Dinsmore anticipates a better 2012 for real estate sales.
"I think this year will be an improvement, because the overall business activity is supposed to improve," Dinsmore said.
Roberts agrees, but still sees challenges ahead.
"I don't think there will be a turnaround in months, I think it will be in years," Roberts said.
In the meantime, opportunity awaits in the marketplace, she said.
"There really has never been a better time to buy," Roberts said.