Home sales dip, but GJ Realtors see hint of hope

Mortgage bankers optimistic despite slip in housing market

After a cold and slow winter, the Grand Valley real estate market is starting to show signs of spring life, real estate agents and mortgage brokers say.

The activity comes as a study shows a price decline that has set back housing prices nationally to 2004 levels. The Grand Valley hasn’t slipped that far back, though mortgage bankers said there’s no denying prices have slipped generally.

“If you bought here in 2006, you’re still ahead,” said James Pulsipher, vice president of Fidelity Mortgage.

Sherry Smith, branch manager for Cherry Creek Mortgage, was a little more optimistic, saying, “We’re seeing values coming in that are closer to late ’07 prices.”

There’s reason to think activity might get a boost as the Grand Valley market gears up for spring house-hunting, said Sandy Barger, chairwoman of the Grand Junction Area Realtors Association.

Lower prices, attractive mortgage rates and an $8,000 federal tax credit for first-time homebuyers contained in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are “getting people out to look,” Barger said.

So far, “We’ve had more closings in April than we had in the first three months” of 2009, Barger said.

Those first months were slow. The 328 closings were the lowest since the oil shale bust of 1982, she said.

Those homes that did sell, however, tended to hold their prices, reflecting a basic market strength, Barger said.

If anything, the Grand Valley housing market is indeed getting back to basics, said Patti Chamberlain, assistant vice president in the mortgage division of Alpine Bank.

“We were doing fine before oil and gas exploded,” Chamberlain said. And even with the flagging energy economy, “We’re a lot more stable than we were in the early 1980s.”

After a period in which refinancing dominated the mortgage industry locally, Chamberlain said she is beginning to see more home purchases coming across her desk.

The market seems to be stabilizing, Pulsipher said, adding he’s seen volume pick up in the last month.

In general, the lower-priced homes are tending to hold their prices while higher-end residences are languishing, he said.

Interest rates are allowing buyers to reach a bit higher than they might otherwise, adding $20,000 to $25,000 to the amounts for which people seeking houses in the $200,000 range can afford, Pulsipher said.

One factor that has slowed sales in the Grand Valley, but which might result in more sales later, is the work that lenders are doing with some buyers, Smith said.

“We’re working with buyers, getting their credit scores up and finding alternate ways” of coming up with down payments, Smith said.

The $8,000 tax credit for first-time buyers could be a boon to parents who can give their children that amount toward a down payment, she said. The children can then repay their parents when the tax credit comes in, she said.

First American CoreLogic, which reports on home sales, price trends and foreclosure activity, said the Grand Junction market saw February housing prices fall 5.11 percent from February 2008. That came on the heels of a 4.36 percent drop in January 2009 prices from those of January 2008.

The Grand Valley market, where housing prices increased in recent years, still didn’t see the price spikes that other areas did, and so it will be more insulated from the settling, Pulsipher said.


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