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Published: Sunday, 7/29/2001

Area watches for signs of chill

BY MARY-BETH McLAUGHLIN
BLADE REAL ESTATE WRITER
Real-estate professionals say it is no longer a seller's market. Real-estate professionals say it is no longer a seller's market.
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THE TOLEDO area housing market stayed steady through the first six months of this year, but that doesn't mean real-estate agents, builders, and developers are breathing easy.

Instead, they have their fingers crossed as they monitor situations such as a slowdown in the upper price ranges and a lengthening period between listing and sale for both new and existing homes.

“I just think it's time for caution. Our economy in northwest Ohio has had a lot of layoffs and I think there's more to come,” said Michael Miller, president of Sulphur Springs Realty, Inc., in Toledo. “We're coming off a five-year period of pretty good growth, but what I don't know is the breadth of the market.”

Giving a more upbeat spin is veteran developer Jim Sahadi, who said he is finding buyers for his new subdivision in Springfield Township that has houses starting at $269,000.

“There's still an enormous amount of activity. I know the economy has slowed up in different avenues, but it hasn't hurt the building market [too much],” Mr. Sahadi said.

Nearly 3,300 homes were sold in Lucas County in the first six months of this year, only 26 more than for the same period last year, according to statistics compiled by the Toledo Board of Realtors. The average price of the homes was $125,583, up less than 2 percent from the average price of $123,521 for the same period last year.

For the same period, 557 single-family-home permits were issued in Lucas County, a 7 percent increase from the 520 permits during the same period last year. (Maumee numbers were not available).

Whitehouse is a good example of the continuing strength of the new home market. Thirty-four new homes were built there in all of last year, but already this year, 25 single-family-home permits were issued, according to village officials.

During the first six months of this year, 18,500 mortgages, home equity loans, or refinancings were taken out in Lucas County, nearly 24 percent more than in the same period last year. But mortgage dollar amounts were down 12 percent to $5.8 billion, mainly because of fewer large loans, said Lucas County recorder Sue Rioux.

In Wood County, demand for housing has picked up considerably after a slowdown in the last half of 2000 and the start of this year, said Michael Sibbersen, county auditor. “This quarter's sales prices reflect a 17 percent increase over this same time period last year.”

Local real-estate agents, builders, developers, and mortgage brokers attributed the mixture of optimism and caution to competing trends: Uncertainty about the economy is being offset by the desire to capitalize on mortgage rates that are dropping below 7 percent on 30-year fixed rates.

“The stock market may be dead as a doornail, but the housing market - with existing-home prices up 8.8 percent over the past year - is hot as a pistol,” said Kenneth Mayland, an economist with ClearView Economics in a Cleveland suburb.

Nationally, home sales increased nearly 3 percent last year from the month before to an annual pace of 5.3 million.

In the Toledo area,

“We've seen a little bit of a lull, which I think is because of the economy,” said David J. Effler, president of Effler Schmitt Co. “When you're looking at the stock market and the slowing manufacturing base, you're not going to see as much activity.”

He added, “We've had a tremendous run in the real estate business for 10 years without a recession so we really can't complain.”

Said Lynn Fruth, co-owner of the Danberry Co., Realtors, in Toledo, “I think that we have a very mixed market. The results for the first half of this year are very similar to the results of a year ago, but it's a very different market.

“Agents and companies are having to advertise properties longer than they did a year ago.

“And a year ago, you could have made a mistake as a seller and still sold your home. Today, not every house is going to sell.”

That's especially true of homes that are priced at $300,000 and above, said Jon Modene, owner of Re/Max Masters in Perrysburg.

“That's the slowest part of the market compared to last year because the economic slowdown we've seen has just reduced demand and also confidence,” he said. “But it seems that homes that are valued at under $150,000 are doing very well.”

Fifth Third Bank (Northwest Ohio) reports its volume of mortgages and refinancing activity is three times what it was for the same period last year.

“We did get off to a slow start in January, but the last three months have just been about as good as it gets,” said Bob LaClair, vice president of lending.

That's also proving true for Bill Schoen, of Bridgewater Construction Co. in Toledo, which builds six to 10 $500,000-plus homes a year, mostly for owners of small businesses.

“I think there's no question that there's probably a slowdown at some level but we're actually very busy and it looks like we're going to stay busy,” he said.



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