COLUMBIA — After six months of declines in year-over-year Boone County home sales, July marks the first time this year sales increased compared to the same month last year, according to statistics released by the Columbia Board of Realtors on Monday.
“We have quite a few more homes sold this time over last year," said Carol Van Gorp, CEO of Columbia Board of Realtors. "That number is like 14, but that’s a lot for this market, especially when you consider that any sort of swing can throw this market off.”
July saw 230 home sales, compared to 205 in July 2008. That brings 2009's Board of Realtor's tally to 1046, still below the 1186 homes sold by that time last year.
New home sales, however, are still low, with only 19 new homes sold in July compared to 23 in 2008. Each month this year has seen lower new home sales compared to 2008.
But new residential construction may be picking up. The city issued 37 residential building permits at a valuation of $5,392,050 — an increase of 10 permits and almost $1 million in value compared with last July.
Local real estate agents have been noticing the improvements in home sales and are optimistic moving forward.
"It has a good feel, and it does feel like it is stepping up," said Virginia Higdon, a local real estate agent. "It was slow for a while, a few months ago, but I think it is definitely going to continue."
Although sales have increased, the median price of homes sold has continued to decline – down 1.44 percent to $150,000 in July and 2.75 percent to $149,750 in June compared to those months in 2008.
“Having the median going down as a result of selling more homes is a good thing,” Van Gorp said. “It doesn’t mean that people are losing value in their homes, just that we are selling more on the lower end right now.”
According to Van Gorp, of the 816 homes sold in July, 80 were eligible for the $8,000 First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit, a part of the federal stimulus package.
“We’re getting an unusual amount of homes sold as a result of first-time buyers taking advantage of that $8,000 incentive,” Van Gorp said.
Real estate agents are encouraging those who qualify for the tax credit to take advantage of it before it is gone.
“We’re hearing from our sources in Washington that (the tax credit) will not be renewed and the homes have to be closed by Nov. 30 in order to take advantage of it,” Van Gorp said. “If people are thinking about it, then the time is now.”
Van Gorp believes that there is a lack of momentum to extend the tax credit because so many of the legislators are “hassling over health care and have no energy left to work on it.”
Whether the tax credit gets renewed or not has yet to be determined, but agents are confident that it is having a positive impact.
"I definitely think the $8,000 tax credit is going to be a big factor for a lot of home sales," Higdon said.
Another reason for the recovery is the fewer foreclosed homes in this market compared to other parts of the country. Van Gorp attributes it to the conservative lending practices of local financial institutions.
“They didn’t go into some of the nutty things these other institutions went into and stayed conservative,” Van Gorp said. “They’ve kept us from having the foreclosure problems that are happening in these other communities.”
Altogether, there is optimism among real estate agents that the market has begun to recover.
"I think most of us are out showing houses more, listing more, and having more closings," Higdon said. "I think most of the (real estate agents) I know are very optimistic about the near term."