The pace of home sales across northwest Ohio picked up last year for the first time in four years but prices are still stuck in the basement, a new report shows.
Sales of single-family homes rose 1 percent, but a flood of distressed sellers and budget-conscious buyers purchasing their first homes sent prices down 9 percent across the region and 11 percent in Lucas County, according to real estate agents and preliminary figures from the Toledo Board of Realtors.
Experts disagree about whether the rise in sales signals that the real estate market in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan has hit bottom
Veteran real estate agent Dan Lepkowski, who has sold homes in the Toledo area for 24 years, sees reason for optimism.
"The phone is ringing more," said Mr. Lepkowski, of the ReMax Central Group in Sylvania Township.
"In the not too distant past, agents were saying that you could put a house out there for free and still not get rid of it. Now, life goes on. People seem to be getting back into the market. Prices are good. Interest rates are good."
But it remains a buyer's market.
Average prices slipped to $101,723 across northwest Ohio and to $94,077 in Lucas County. It was the first time in several years that average prices in the county, including Toledo, Sylvania Township, Monclova Township, and Springfield Township, fell below $100,000, agents said.
The figures are preliminary and could change as agents report additional 2009 sales to the Board of Realtors'-managed multiple-listing service. Besides Lucas County, the figures include sales in portions of 13 other counties in northwest Ohio.
The prices represent an average for all homes sold and aren't followed as closely by real estate watchers as the median price. The median - meaning half of homes sold for more, half for less - will be released in the coming weeks for Toledo and other metro areas by the National Association of Realtors.
Since the real estate market peaked locally in 2005, average prices in the region have dropped by 24 percent or $31,000 from $133,000, figures from the Toledo board show.
The number of sales declined 25 percent over the four-year period to 6,525 last year. Sixty-three percent of those sales were in Lucas County.
The biggest jump in activity in the region was among houses below $50,000. Sales of such properties rose 19 percent and accounted for about a third of houses that changed hands last year.
Jim Loss, of Loss Realty Group in Toledo, attributes that to a steady stream of foreclosures and distressed sales in which the owner owes more than the home is worth.
These properties account for about half of all sales listings in the area, Mr. Loss and other agents said.
Additionally, many house-hunters were first-time buyers seeking to take advantage of temporary federal tax credits established to stimulate the housing market, real estate agents said.
Such buyers tend to focus on less expensive homes.
Congress renewed the program through April 30 and expanded it to include additional home buyers. Agents are optimistic that will help grease the real estate market as spring approaches.
A decrease in local unemployment rates, which averaged 11.8 percent in Lucas County in November, could provide further stimulus, they added.
Michael Miller, president of Sulphur Springs Realty in Toledo, predicted foreclosures will remain at high levels and continue to depress prices in 2010.
"We have not hit bottom yet," said Mr. Miller, whose agency specializes in higher-end homes.
"We're seeing the number of sales going up," he said. "But we're not experiencing, in the large-home market, any appreciation or increase in pricing."
The Toledo Board of Realtors' report showed that average prices improved in December from the prior year.
They increased 18 percent from December, 2008, to $106,215 across the region. Sales slipped 4 percent to 439.
Condominium sales for all of 2009 rose 2 percent to 253 in Lucas County and 369 regionwide.
Average condo sales prices fell 13 percent in Lucas to $134,889 and 12 percent regionally to $135,101.
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