Triangle home sales rise 22% as inventory levels fall

dbracken@newsobserver.comSeptember 12, 2013 

Triangle home sales increased 22 percent last month compared with the same period a year ago, as the region’s housing market extended its run of double-digit gains this year.

But the uptick in sales still has not reversed the ongoing decline in the number of homes on the market here. The inventory of homes fell 14 percent in August compared with the same period last year, Triangle Multiple Listing Services data show.

The Triangle now has just a three-month supply of homes on the market at the current pace of sales. The last time the region’s supply was this low was in May 2007, during the height of the housing bubble.

Marti Hampton, owner of Re/Max One Realty in Raleigh, said the jump in sales this year can be misleading.

“A lot of what you saw this year was a burn off of distressed properties, a lot of hedge fund companies came in here and bought up a large amount of real estate and made the numbers look good,” she said. “But still there’s some hurting people in our market.”

Hampton said the bulk of the sales taking place have been homes priced at $300,000 or below.

“That inventory’s going to go pretty fast. But if you’re sitting there with a $450,000 house and you can’t even get a showing in four months that isn’t a good thing,” she said. “ ... It’s not an even market.”

The average days on the market of the homes that sold in August was 70, down from 110 days during the same period a year ago.

Such low inventory levels in the Triangle have historically coincided with significant price appreciation. But prices here have so far been slow to rise.

Stacey Anfindsen, a Cary appraiser who analyzes MLS data for area real estate agents, said buyers are still showing signs of wariness about both the housing market and the overall economic recovery.

“They want to buy a house, but they don’t have to buy a house,” he said. “That’s really, I think, the difference between other times when you’ve seen housing prices increase. I still think you have a lot of psychological damage from the bubble years.”

Hampton said many homeowners who bought between 2005 and 2007 can’t put their homes up for sale because they are still underwater, meaning they owe more than their house is worth. She said the unevenness of the housing recovery is a reflection of the job market.

“We’re not producing enough jobs,” Hampton said. “And jobs are what have always driven this economy. ... This is not what I would call a true recovery.”

The strength of the housing recovery in the Triangle and nationwide is likely to be tested in the coming months if interest rates continue to rise as expected.

“I think it’s getting some buyers off the fence and it’s making others wait,” Hampton said of rising interest rates. “It’s really hard to say. I don’t think it’s had a drastic effect at this point in time.”

Bracken: 919-829-4548

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