Home sales turn around

Real estate agent Kelley Burford, left, shows Chris Jekel and Heather Thom a three-bedroom, 1,944-square-foot home on North 16th Street, where the asking price has been dropped by more than $20,000 since September.

As unlikely as it might seem, new homes are under construction on Orchard Mesa.

And as cold and slow as the winter was, it couldn’t suppress a small glimmer of hope for the housing market, when first-quarter sales in Mesa County edged up ever so slightly over the same quarter of 2009.

It wasn’t much, but it was the first time in 13 consecutive quarters that he recorded a year-over-year increase in quarterly sales, said Bob Reece of Advanced Title Co., who issues quarterly reports on the condition of the Mesa County housing market.

Through the first three months of 2010, there were 542 sales compared with 509 last year, Reece said.

“We’re seeing an uptick right now in sales activity,” said Bob Bray of Bray Real Estate, 1015 N. Seventh St.

Part of the reason for that might be that prices have fallen.

The median price of improved residential properties sold in Mesa County is down to about $190,000, or off about 10 percent from last year, according to Reece’s survey.

All in all, the real estate picture is “not like it was three years ago,” said Betsy Smith, a real estate agent with RE/MAX 4000, 120 W. Park Drive. “But it’s not like it was eight months ago, either.”

Showings tend to be up, especially in recent weeks as the weather has warmed, Bray and Smith said.

Although the dominant trend among buyers has been that of home- owners looking to downsize, Smith said she has noted some activity among buyers looking at higher-end properties, in the $350,000 and higher range, and even some nibbles at properties in the $600,000-plus range.

Government incentives for first-time and existing homebuyers, along with low interest rates and downward pressure on home prices, are tantalizing some buyers to jump into the market, Bray said.

“If you have good credit, you can buy a house today that you couldn’t buy three years ago,” he said.

Options for people in the least-expensive sector of the market are expansive, Bray said.

About 70 percent of the Grand Valley’s housing inventory of 1,814 improved residential properties is priced below $300,000, and 42 percent is under $200,000, Bray said.

“A lot of buyers want to move down now, and they far outnumber people who want to move up,” Reece said. “If you’re a move-up buyer, the possibilities are endless” as owners of large expensive properties look to get out from under them and find smaller locations.

Surveying the real estate market, the number of building permits increased by two from the first quarter of 2009, Reece said.

At the Hawk’s Nest subdivision at the northwest corner of 30 and B roads on Orchard Mesa, pickups line the streets, and the clatter of construction reverberates among the walls and roofs being constructed.

Janet Pritchett who is handling sales of Hawk’s Nest, said she is hoping buyers will be attracted to Steady Construction’s work.

“We’re hoping if we build it, they will come,” Pritchett said.

It’s too early to tell whether a slip in the number of foreclosure filings in Mesa County is a blip, Reece said. Since July of 2009, foreclosures have run in the range of 130 to 145 a month, he said. March’s foreclosures, however, fell to 109.

“I have my fingers crossed that maybe it’s the beginning of a trend,” he said.

The large number of foreclosures has held down housing prices overall, Reece said.

“When we see foreclosures go down for a couple months in a row, then we might see prices firm up in the next three to four months,” he said.

The Grand Valley market has yet to feel the effects of changes intended to streamline short sales, which allow distressed homeowners to avoid the pain and credit stain of foreclosure by selling their homes for less than they owe.

Lenders need to cooperate in short sales, and under the federal government’s Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives, borrowers get approved short-sale terms from their lenders before putting their homes on the market.

Grand Valley lenders so far have proved more willing to cooperate with short sales than have larger, national lending institutions, but that might change as the rules, which went into effect April 5, are better accepted.

“Some have embraced it because they realize the benefit,” Reece said.

Early this year, Craig Ginter summed up the real estate picture as “somewhat flat from 2008 to 2009, which in the vernacular of most real estate professionals was the new up.”

Now, “The new up is really up,” said Ginter, co-owner of United Country RealQuest Realty, 2470 Patterson Road, No. 1.

“Are we seeing gigantic strides? No,” Ginter said. “We certainly are seeing some things that are giving us some light at the end of the tunnel.”

Among them, steady activity in buyer inquiries and showings, he said.

Some of the increased activity that the real estate industry is seeing has to do with the release of pent-up demand after a long and cold winter, Smith said.

There are also tangible measures, such as the construction continuing at Mesa State College and the just-completed Century Tower at St. Mary’s Hospital. The opening of Cabela’s at Mesa Mall, which is expected by summer, and eventual groundbreaking for American Furniture Warehouse on U.S. Highway 6&50 also are encouraging signs for buyers, Smith said.

Sales opportunities, however, aren’t walking in the door or setting cell phones a quiver unbidden, Ginter said.

“We have to go out and chase,” Ginter said, “and a lot of people who are pretty good at what they do are doing just that.”


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