Local home sale numbers still heading up

Check out this Lincoln Journal Star article, featuring HOME Real Estate clients Tanner and Faith Andrews, who worked with agent Carla Waldbaum, and HOME builder Steve Champoux of Prairie Homebuilders:

BY MATT Olberding/Lincoln Journal Star

Tanner Andrews had already put his house on the market before the $6,500 federal tax credit for repeat homebuyers became available in November.

So the tax credit didn’t really have anything to do with his interest in buying a new home.

But it did influence his choice.

Andrews and his wife, Faith, wanted a bigger home with more bathrooms for them and their two children. But they also wanted a house with a privacy fence.

The house they liked the best didn’t have a fence, though, and Andrews said they definitely would have kept looking and may not have bought the house they did without that $6,500 credit as an incentive.

“Putting up a privacy fence is $4,000, and having that tax credit helps tremendously,” said Andrews, who owns Andy’s Appliance repair.

Not only did the Andrewses benefit from the $6,500 tax credit for themselves, but the buyers of their home are taking advantage of the $8,000 federal tax credit for first-time homebuyers. Both sales are scheduled to close later this month.

To a large degree, the tax credits have helped a rebirth of Lincoln’s sagging home market.

There were 4,041 home sales in 2009 through the local Multiple Listing System, which covers Lancaster and parts of other surrounding counties. That was up 11.4 percent from 2008.

And despite the horrible weather in January, sales for the month were still up more than 3 percent compared with January 2009.

That has local real estate officials looking toward spring with optimism.

“I think you’re going to see quite an uptick in sales this spring,” said Kent Thompson, president of the Realtors Association of Lincoln.

Thompson predicted sales in the first half of the year could be up 10 to 15 percent over last year, as buyers unleash demand stifled by the harsh winter and rush to take advantage of the homebuying tax credits, which are set to expire at the end of April.

Thompson said he thinks things will level off in the second half of the year, after the tax credits go away, but he still expects sales to be up around 10 percent for the year.

“People are feeling a little more stable about where this economy’s at,” Thompson said.

The local economy has fared better than most other places in the country, with unemployment rates that are among the lowest in the nation. That, combined with low interest rates and the tax credits has helped jumpstart home sales.

“We’re hoping that as you look back at it, that ‘08 becomes the bottom and you go up from there,” said Doug Rotthaus, executive vice president of the local Realtors Association.

Sales to first-time homebuyers in 2009 drove exisiting home sales to their second-highest level in history, but even the new-home market – which has been at its lowest level in more than a decade – saw a slight improvement, with its first year-over-year gain in six years.

“Two thousand eight was the worst year we’ve had in a long time,” said Steve Champoux, owner of Prairie Homebuilders. “Two thousand nine was a lot better.”

Champoux said the tax credit really made a difference last year, helping demand for new homes.

Many of those sales were to first-time buyers, a fact that was reflected in prices.

Median prices of new homes dropped 6 percent last year, to their lowest level since 2005.

The median price of existing homes stayed steady at $125,000, which is also the lowest since 2005.

The overall median price dropped more than 2 percent last year, to its lowest level since 2003.

Rotthaus acknowledged that much of the homebuying in 2009 was in the lower price ranges, but he said he’s starting to see an uptick in “move-up” buyers – people selling a home to move to a larger, more expensive one.

“There does seem to at least be a little better activity in the $250,000 range,” he said.

That may be due in large part to the $6,500 tax credit available to people buying a new home who have lived in their current home for at least five years.

Like the Andrewses, Becky Virgillito and her husband, Dan, were looking for a bigger house for themselves and their child.

Virgillito said the availability of the tax credit made a “huge impact” on their decision to go ahead and look for a new house.

“We knew we wanted something bigger, but that (tax credit) was probably the deciding factor,” she said.

The Virgillitos’ house sold in less than a week – to a first-time buyer using the $8,000 credit – and they were able to find a house they liked right away.

They closed last month and have moved into their “dream home,” as Virgillito puts it.

“I encourage anyone who’s even considering it (using the tax credit) to look into it, because it’s well worth it,” she said.

Reach Matt Olberding at 473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.

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