Home Sales Rise, Long Beach Realtors Have Mixed Feelings

9:35am | Existing-home sales rose again in September, “affirming that a sales recovery has begun,” the National Association of Realtors said on Monday.

Existing-home sales (single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops) rose 10% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.53 million units in September, NAR reported. Home sales remain just over 19% below September 2009, when first-time buyers were leaving the sidelines to beat the deadline for the tax credit last November, the association reported.

“A housing recovery is taking place but will be choppy at times depending on the duration and impact of a foreclosure moratorium,” Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said in a statement. “But the overall direction should be a gradual rising trend in home sales with buyers responding to historically low mortgage interest rates and very favorable affordability conditions.”

California home sales posted their second consecutive monthly gain in September, but were down from the same period a year ago, according to data released by the California Association of Realtors last week.

Home resales in California rose 3.8% in September from August, but were 12.2% below the sales pace in September 2009, according to CAR.

The median price of an existing, single-family detached home sold in California during September was $309,900, which is down 2.7% from August’s $318,660 median, according to CAR. September’s median was up 4.5% from the $296,610 median during the same period a year ago, the CAR report shows.

The median in Long Beach was $300,000, down 9% a year ago.

Long Beach area Realtors expressed mixed feelings about whether the housing market is turning a corner, with some seeing some hope in the local market, and others remaining skeptical.

“It doesn’t surprise me that September 2010 home sales were up over August 2010,” said Richard Daskam, with Keller Williams Realty. “Activity was very brisk the last two to three weeks of the month, once school went back into session. It is normal for our market to have summer activity and with the short sale approvals finally starting to flow in and the extension on the closing for the Federal Home Purchase credit, it’s all coming together. Not to mention the low interest rates.”
“We have seen the local inventory of available properties continue to decrease which is helping to get some buyers off the fence for fear of not finding a home to purchase,” Daskam continued.
Daskam, who sells a large number of homes in Long Beach and Signal Hill each year, credited the increase he’s seeing in sales to the rising number of short sale approvals. In  a monthly study by SoCalMLS, the number of short sale closings almost doubled from August 2010 to September 2010 in Orange County, Daskam noted. “It appears the same is true for the Long Beach area. Personally, I had three short sales approved in September,” he added.

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $171,700 in September, 2.4% below a year ago, according to the NAR report. Distressed homes accounted for 35% of sales in September compared with 34 percent in August, and 29% in September 2009.

Jeremy Colonna, a Broker with Colonna & Co. Realty, doesn’t see recovery happening yet. In fact, he fears that the darkest days in housing may be just around the corner.

“I can appreciate NAR's contention that we are in a cycle of recovery, but must respectfully disagree with their assertion,” he said. “Perhaps when looking at national numbers things are looking up, but locally they differ pretty greatly. September sale numbers in Long Beach were 243 sales for 2008, compared with 272 sales for both 2009 and this year. The real distressing trend shows up when you look at the sales numbers for October. For October 2008 and 2009, there were 304 and 314 homes—condos too—sold respectively. So far this month, there have been a total of 129 sales. This represents a whopping 50% decline in sales from the previous year. When you couple that with the 2,544 properties currently in foreclosure or already bank-owned in the city, you get a much clearer picture that the darkest days may be yet to come.”

Despite his skepticism, Colonna believes now is a good time to buy. “With interest rates being incredibly low and properties being very affordable, it may be a great time to buy,” he says. “I am advising my clients to be very patient and very selective. If it's the right deal, then don't be afraid to pull the trigger.”

Whether people are buying, or will be buying, interest is on the rise, said Dennis Berry, an agent who works at Keller Williams with Daskam.

“We had a broker tour for a property on Atherton last week that had more than 40 agents come through and a couple of the agents were very interested in the property for their clients,” Berry said. “We are getting a lot of showings for the properties we have listed. They have to be priced right and priced around $300,000.”

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