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REAL ESTATE

Finally, good housing news

Sales bump up more than 20 percent from 2011 to 2012

At last, there is some good news about the housing market, after the housing crisis that spawned the recent recession.

A number of indicators point to a turnaround.

Home sales are up 20.9 percent statewide and 21.9 percent in Merrimack County compared with 2011, according to Dave Cummings at the New Hampshire Association of Realtors.

The median sale price is up 1 percent statewide and 0.4 percent in Merrimack Country for the same period. While these price increases are small, they are a step in the right direction, he said.

“The real estate market is always subject to fluctuations in jobs, the stock market, and consumer confidence,” Cummings said. “We stay away from predictions – we’re not economists. But, with a steady unit sales increase, median price increase, and a stable supply-and-demand equation, the trend is toward recovery.”

Statewide, residential sales volume in dollars is up 21.4 percent over 2011, the highest volume since 2007.

Single family residential sales (new construction and existing homes) account for 80 percent of home sales; the rest is condominiums and apartments.

Also, the “monthly supply inventory” is regaining balance. That figure reflects the expected number of months, based on the previous month’s sales, required to move all of the houses that are currently on the market. An ideal number is 6-8 months, Cummings said. The figure dropped from 17 months in January 2011 to 9 months by May of 2012. It’s been stable since, with December showing 8.4.

John Greenwood, sales director at Masiello Group in Concord, said 2012 was the best year the company has had since 2009.

“In some areas, we’ve seen multiple offers on homes. We haven’t seen that in a long, long time – that’s a great sign,” he said.

New construction
and housing starts

Although housing starts are still far below pre-2008 levels, new housing permits issued in New Hampshire were 14.4 percent higher in 2012 than in 2011 for single-family homes, and 13.4 percent higher for all types of residential housing, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Kendall Buck, executive vice president of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of New Hampshire, is optimistic that new housing starts will continue to grow, although perhaps slowly, as long as the overall economy remains steady.

“Remodeling continues to be headed in the right direction, too,” Buck said. “Energy retrofits and upgrades are very prevalent; people are finding it is a good investment.”

Mike Whitcher of Whitcher Builders said that their development and commercial business is thriving and is expected to remain steady this year, but housing is another story.

“Housing has been down, at least in our market share,” he said.

Whitcher said the company is well-equipped to meet the challenge.

“We tailor to the business that’s available to us,” he said, “finding those niches that exist and tying into them. If things boom more into remodeling, then we’ll find ourselves move more to remodeling. We do have our own staff architect, which is a niche that has helped us.

“We’re probably one of the last general contractors that do big commercial work that have our own work force. We can bounce back and forth, and that helps a lot in being able to diversify.”

Mortgage availability

For those buying a new or existing home, there’s plenty of mortgage money available, said Donna Benson, senior vice president and senior retail loan officer at Merrimack County Savings Bank.

“This was our second highest year in volume since 2009,” Benson said. “We ended the year lending out $119 million for 628 loans.”

While there’s no shortage of mortgage money, she said, the underwriting guidelines are tougher.

Foreclosures

Perhaps the most significant indicator in the ongoing housing recovery is a decline in the number of foreclosures.

“We don’t have the December numbers yet, but foreclosures in New Hampshire by the end of 2012 will probably end up at 3,600 or so,” said Dean Christon, executive director of the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority.

That’s down from 3,863 in 2011, and 3,953 in 2010. He expects about 3,000 foreclosures in 2013.

“Even better, we’re seeing a significant reduction in the number of foreclosure auction notices that are published, which are an indicator of future foreclosure activity,” he said.

The main reason, he said, is the overall improvement in the economy. Also, he said, there has been a shift in approach on the part of servicers of loans, with more focus on loan modifications and short sales as alternatives to foreclosures.

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