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Foreclosures drop, home sales rise in March as N.H. housing market improves

Foreclosures were down and home sales were up in March from a year earlier, the latest signs that New Hampshire’s housing market is on the mend.

“We’re on the upward slope now . . . I think convincingly, if not dramatically,” said Russ Thibeault, president of Applied Economic Research in Laconia.

There were 274 foreclosure deeds recorded in the state in March, down 24.3 percent from the 362 recorded in March 2012, the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority announced yesterday.

The state saw 806 foreclosures in the first quarter of 2013, the agency said, 16.3 percent fewer than the 963 recorded in the first quarter of 2013 and the lowest first-quarter level since 2008.

New Hampshire foreclosures in 2012 were at their lowest annual level since 2009.

Still, Thibeault said it’s too early to declare the foreclosure crisis has ended.

“I don’t think it’s over, but I think it’s ebbing,” he said.

Other indicators also show growing strength in the residential real estate market. March was the 16th consecutive month that home sales in New Hampshire rose from the same month a year earlier, according to the New Hampshire Association of Realtors.

Some 937 homes were sold in the state in March, an increase of 4.1 percent from the 900 sold in March 2012, and sales were up 8.4 percent in the first three months of the year compared with the first quarter of 2012.

Prices are rising, too, if more modestly. The median price of a home sold in New Hampshire in the first quarter was $194,700, up 3.9 percent from the median sale price of $187,400 in the first quarter of 2012, according to the association.

(Home sale and foreclosure numbers for April have not yet been released.)

Thibeault said another critical indicator is moving in the right direction: the time it would take to sell the entire inventory of housing on the market in New Hampshire now at the sales pace of the last 12 months.

“That particular indicator is the most powerful housing market indicator,” he said. “When that started rising in 2004, that portended the bubble bursting.”

It now stands at about eight months, Thibeault said, a “very healthy level” and down from a peak of about 18 months during the worst of the recession and housing crisis. That in turn should lead to a more significant rise in housing prices.

Still, observers’ optimism about the real estate market is tempered with caution.

“Things are improving, but let’s not break out the punch bowls just yet,” said Bill Weidacher, president of the New Hampshire Association of Realtors, in a statement.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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