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Published: Sunday, 1/16/2005

A year of modest gains

BY MARY-BETH McLAUGHLIN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Only a few more houses sold in Lucas County last year than in the year before, and the median sales price didn't climb a lot, apparently because of the robust new-housing market and struggling local economy.

A total of 5,782 houses were sold last year in the county, up 1 percent from 2003, and the median price climbed just 2 percent to $110,000, a smaller percentage increase than in the previous year, according to the county auditor's office.

Of note, the village of Ottawa Hills surpassed Monclova Township for the richest median sales price, a feat the plush Toledo enclave hasn't accomplished in at least three years. And, the village of Holland had the biggest percentage jump in sales price.

The number of houses sold in Toledo soared, but fell in the suburbs, and the median sales price rose in both.

The figures from the county auditor's office exclude empty lots, newly built houses, and sales of less than $1,000 or more than $1.5 million. A median price means half of the houses sold for more and half sold for less. The county reports the figures based on 34 zones in the city and its suburbs.

"What we're seeing is typical of our market," said Lynn Fruth, president of Danberry Co. Realtors in Toledo. "We're one of these nice, steady, consistent markets, nothing glamorous. But without glamour, there's less tragedy."

Local real estate experts called the market friendly to buyers, given that Toledo and its suburbs have 1,200 more properties for sale than a year ago. Local agents said sales prices locally will not fluctuate as they do in California, for example.

Prices rose more rapidly in the county areas outside Toledo. There, the median price was up 20 percent to $175,000. In Toledo, the price jumped 9 percent to $89,000. Twenty-two of the 34 neighborhoods and suburbs tracked by the county had price increases.

However, 26 percent fewer houses were sold in the suburbs last year than in the year before, at 1,924. But Toledo had a 23 percent increase in houses sold, at 3,858.

The decrease in the suburbs can be explained by the continuing strength of new construction, coupled with a lack of corporate transfers, said John Mangas, broker/co-owner of Re/Max Preferred Associates LLC in Toledo.

The higher sales number for Toledo is the result of low mortgage interest rates and demand from first-time buyers, for whom the city market is attractive, Mr. Mangas said. "We have nice housing that's affordable," he added.

Using its own data, the Toledo Board of Realtors said the median sales price in metro Toledo last year was $113,500, up 1 percent from the previous year. The trade group, using figures that include parts of Wood and Monroe counties and some new houses, said 8,343 houses were sold last year, a 4 percent increase.

Year-end figures nationwide are not available, but the National Association of Realtors estimates that a record 6.64 million homes were sold last year, 9 percent more than in the prior year. The national median sales price is estimated at $183,100, up 8 percent.

Locally, the village of Ottawa Hills had the highest median sales price at $321,000, up 27 percent from the year before and surpassing Monclova's $260,000, which was up just 2 percent, according to the county auditor. The village's price was based on 66 sales, down from the year before.

David Effler, of Effler Schmitt Co., explained the price boost in Ottawa Hills: "The schools are a tremendous driving force. Plus, there's the architecture of the homes and the services we have, including street cleaning and our own police and fire departments."

Grabbing the spotlight for the most improved price was the western suburb of Holland. It had a 40 percent jump to $171,500, based on 27 sales.

Staying within Holland was a no-brainer for house shoppers Helen and Kevin Darrah. Mrs. Darrah is a village council member and wanted her two daughters to go to Springfield schools.

"I think more people are discovering our village services, like our recycling program and our park program, and the school system is the No. 1 reason why people like it here," she said.

Two townships on the county's western edges - Harding and Providence - each had at least a 30 percent increase in price, each based on fewer than 35 sales. The large increases are most likely from large houses built on several acres in those areas, local real estate agents said.

Agents said they were not surprised by the small increase in the county's median price because house building was so strong last year and because major corporations weren't hiring as much, and that slowed buying.

Three Toledo neighborhood areas had price drops of at least 7 percent, but Mr. Mangas said that should not be a concern because neighborhoods often have a broad range and a decline could simply reflect the types of homes sold last year. One neighborhood is in East Toledo and the other two are near downtown Toledo.

Three other neighborhoods in Toledo had sharp declines in the number of sales, which could reflect the economic uncertainty that has plagued Toledo workers, said Jim Loss, broker/owner of Loss Realty Group Inc. in Toledo.

One usually brisk area is the city of Sylvania, but it had a 26 percent decline in numbers of sales last year, to 234. That might be a reflection of people opting to build houses, agents said.

House sales figures for most neighboring counties were not available last week. Only Fulton County said it had a 6 percent increase in its median sales price last year to $96,700 on 639 sales, down slightly from 654 the year before.

Contact Mary-Beth McLaughlin at: mmclaughlin@theblade.com or 419-724-6199.



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