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Home closings rise as seller’s market remains in new year

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Brisk home sales continued in January across the Greater Lehigh Valley. Homes sold on average 12.3 days faster than those sold in January 2017.

 

Activity in the region resulted in a 5 percent jump in both closed sales, with 1,146 homes sold and 1,459 pending sales last month when compared to the previous January.

The continued decline of new listings bodes well for a strong seller’s market.

“Inventory is low, and it’s a good time to sell,” said John Abromitis, associate broker and owner of Century 21 North Warren Realty, Hackettstown, N.J.

Agents across the region agree.

“The general trend at this point in the market is that there are not enough nice houses for the number of buyers that are currently in the marketplace,” said Jeff Martin, real estate agent with Century-21 Gold, Wyomissing.

“If a house is in good condition and priced correctly, it sells in a couple weeks.”

HEDGING ON WHEN TO LIST

Ellen Shaughnessy, broker/owner of Free Bridge Realty, Easton, said buyers are quickly snatching up homes that show well and are in good condition.

How quickly? Twelve days sooner in Lehigh and Northampton counties compared to January 2017. A 12 percent increase in pending sales – 65 more than last January – indicates that trend may continue, provided a 2 percent drop in new listings doesn’t dampen that activity.

“Inventory is pretty low,” Shaughnessy said. “For some reason, a lot of sellers want to just wait until there are tulips coming up to get their house on the market. That thinking is flawed because there are buyers out there looking right now and they are not finding much.

“With our strong market the last few years, people might want to reconsider waiting around until March 20 to list their homes. Values have come back.”

Shaughnessy said uncertainty about the economy, government leadership and the personal effects of the tax reform law have made potential sellers think twice about listing.

In spite of lingering uncertainty and inventory challenges, Shaughnessy expects a brisk spring market.

“There’s lots of pent-up demand,” she said. “This spring is going to be pretty wild.”

IMPROVING

In Berks County, January showed a modest 2 percent growth in closed sales as well as a 10 percent drop in new listings, both compared to January 2017.

“Generally speaking, the market is definitely improving,” Martin said. “There are less listings and they are harder to come by for buyers. Buyers would love to have more listings to look at, that’s for sure.”

According to Martin, potential sellers are concerned about listing their homes over the fear they may not find a replacement home in today’s tight inventory market.

“That definitely keeps people from moving on,” he said.

Martin expects buyer activity to remain strong this year.

“We will see more of the same, at least here in Berks County,” he said. “Low inventory, multiple offers on really nice houses and buyer demand are going to continue to be high. Interest rates are creeping up a little bit, but that doesn’t seem to be putting a damper on things. …

“Housing is still very affordable in our specific marketplace.”

INTEREST RATE CONCERNS

The Warren County, N.J., marketplace saw a 34.1 percent spike in closed sales and a 12.1 percent jump in pending sales in January. Similar to other areas, new listings dropped 5.6 percent.

“Everybody has their sights on what is the stock market going to do, what is the federal government going to do with interest rates,” Abromitis said. “They are targeting three increases in prime rate this year. The stock market tumbled three times in the last few weeks.

“They are concerned about inflation. … Depending on what they are going to do with all of that, they are attempting to fine-tune the real estate market.”

Abromitis hopes those factors will entice potential sellers to list and buyers to act.

“If you’re thinking about selling in the next year, now may be better than the end of the year because you won’t know what the rates will be until the end of the year,” he said. “This will affect buyer activity. The further west you get, the softer the market.”

FLIPPING

Foreclosures and the lack of good inventory continue to affect the residential real estate market in the Poconos (Monroe County), which saw a 6.3 percent drop in closed sales and a 2.2 percent fall in pending sales in January. New listings fell 19.4 percent January over January.

“Even though the sales are going down, the values are going up,” said Thomas Schatzman, broker with Country Squires Realty, Stroudsburg. “You can see that when a house goes for sale and you get multiple offers, they go for the highest and best offer.

“People are then putting them back on the market and making quite a bit of money by fixing them up and flipping the houses.”

Schatzman sees foreclosures as well as a countywide reassessment project as two factors affecting the Pocono real estate market.

“There are still a lot of foreclosures coming up, and those foreclosures are now, instead of one person buying, there are multiple offers,” he said. “It’s on the upswing. Things are moving ahead.”

BUSY START

Schuylkill County saw a 36.2 percent jump in the number of closed sales and a 12.7 percent bump in pending sales in January. New listings fell 10.2 percent, while homes sold typically sold two days sooner than last January.

“We’re still seeing tight inventory,” said Erica Ramus, broker with Ramus Realty Group, Pottsville. “We don’t have enough houses in certain price ranges. We’re still seeing strong buyer activity.

“Despite the lack of inventory, we had an excellent January, so it’s very unusual to have a really good January kick off the year. The buyers just didn’t slow down. They keep coming out of the woodwork.”

Ramus said nervousness about potential interest rate increases this year account for some of the unusually brisk activity.

VACATION, SECOND-HOME SALES

Carbon County also saw brisk activity in January. While closed sales rose a modest 2.9 percent, pending sales jumped 42.5 percent and new listings spiked 61.8 percent. Houses sold 21 days more quickly than those sold last January, a factor resulting from the strong seller’s market.

Similar to primary homes, the second-home and vacation markets also see brisk activity.

“It’s just starting to rebound, the second-home market,” said Lucille Richmond, associate broker with Century 21 Select, Lake Harmony. “Sales have increased this year over last year at the same time.”

Richmond, whose business primarily focuses on the second home market in the northern end of the county in Penn Forest and Kidder townships, thinks more confidence in the economy may be contributing to that increased activity. The area’s proximity to a golf course, lakes, rafting, hiking, biking and casinos makes second homes attractive.

“The lack of inventory helped homes that have been on the market a long time sell because there isn’t too much out there and they want something,” Richmond said. “I don’t see the prices going up yet. … As the demand goes up, the prices go up.”

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