Like most of the country, Toledo's real estate market is far from where it once was. But as the summer selling season concludes, signs point to a continuing, though slow, recovery.
Local real estate agents say they're seeing lower inventory, multiple offers on more homes, and stabilizing sales prices. The percentage of delinquent mortgages and homes in foreclosure are down from last year. Mortgage rates remain near record lows.
That all adds up to an improving picture for a market that was put through the wringer in recent years.
"The number of transactions haven't changed much, but the mix has changed a little bit," said Michael Miller, president of Sulphur Springs Realty. "Even though there's a lot of short sales and foreclosures, there's less of them than there was two years ago. There's more viability in the market, more people sticking their toe in. Two years ago we were kind of dead in the water."
Historically, prospective home buyers look in spring and buy in summer, with hopes of settling into their new homes before children return to school and temperatures start falling.
As we near the Labor Day holiday, many real estate agents and lenders say this summer has been considerably better than last. June sales were up nearly 18 percent over the year prior, and July sales also came in ahead of last year.
"Everybody's pretty optimistic, said Barbara Stout, Toledo Board of Realtors president. "Their business is a little slower than it was a month ago, but we're still getting calls consistently."
Sales of new and existing homes in Toledo through July was up 12.2 percent over the same period last year, according to the Ohio Association of Realtors. The average sale price has inched up to $105,255, an increase of 2 percent. Statewide, sales are up 12.9 percent. The average transaction price is up 4.2 percent over last year to $133,550.
"It looks like the market has started to regain its footing," said Carl Horst, a spokesman with the Ohio Association of Realtors. "We've had 13 consecutive months of positive sales on a monthly basis in Ohio, which is a pretty good barometer that the market is starting to show some health. More importantly, we've seen home prices stabilize."
The association's report on pending sales also gives reason for optimism. In June, pending sales were up 17 percent from the year prior.
"Obviously some of those aren't going to get to the closing table for whatever reason, but it kind of gives you a glimpse at what may be taking place down the road," Mr. Horst said. "We're feeling the market is certainly gaining strength from where we were."
The association will release its report on July pending sales later this week.
Though the overall picture is improving, foreclosures and short sales continue to make up a large part of the market. Those properties continue to distort the market, said Chris Hall, an agent with Danberry Co. and treasurer of the Ohio Association of Realtors.
"Until those are gone, we're not going to have a normal market," he said.
Rick Turner, a Toledo-based realtor with Key Realty, agrees. He's telling sellers it's more important now than ever that they ensure their home has a "wow factor."
"Bottom line is get your house ready, get it priced correctly, but you're still going to feel the effects of the [lender-owned] market," he said.
However, both Mr. Turner and Mr. Hall say they're seeing banks working more intently to sell their empty homes.
"My gut feeling is they're pricing [homes] more competitively, getting multiple offers, and getting them off the market," Mr. Hall said.
Mr. Turner said he's seeing banks send in work crews to do everything from scrubbing down walls to replacing sagging or leaky roofs. The efforts, he says, pay off, making homes salable and financeable.
Even though average 30-year mortgage rates rose for a fourth straight week last week, at 3.66 percent they're still only slightly above the record low of 3.49 percent. That has spurred many homeowners to refinance -- some even for a second time since the credit crunch.
Ron Patton, senior vice president of lending at Directions Federal Credit Union, said home loan business at his institution is up at least 40 percent from last year.
"Some of it's due naturally to the interest rates," he said. "They're at record lows right now. But we're also starting to see some construction business and some purchases, which is very encouraging."
While Mr. Turner says the market is certainly improving, he's a bit more bearish on how much. Improvement hinges on employment, and at 8.1 percent, metro Toledo's July unemployment rate remains too high for his liking. He also said lenders are taking note of that uncertainty, with underwriters getting caught up in what he called "minutiae." For example, one underwriter noted that a new father had missed a couple days of work because of the birth and requested proof of the baby.
"I'm warning people, do not be surprised, do not be offended as you go through this process," he said. "It's not you. It's everyone."
Martin Sutter, president and chief executive of Genoa Bank, said credit scores and loan-to-value ratios can prevent some people from getting the lowest rates. But he said the ease of getting loans approved has improved greatly from where it was in recent years.
"I think we went from a period where we could get people qualified very easy to where we couldn't get anybody qualified to where we now are able to get quite a few people," he said. "It's not as good as it was five or six years ago, but it's improved from two or three years ago. It's still hard, but two to three years ago it was ungodly. It was ridiculous."
Mr. Sutter said Genoa Bank's mortgage business is up about 200 percent this year, he said.
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: email@example.com or 419-724-6134.