Interest rates spur March real estate activity

Interest rates continued falling in March, spurring a busy month of real estate activity in the High Country. Local inventory grew, while nationally the sale of vacation homes hit a 12-year high.

There were 106 homes worth $28.8 million purchased in March, according to the High Country Multiple Listing Service, which tracks Realtor®-assisted sales in Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties.

March 2015 sales graphicThe total sales were two fewer than March 2014, but the median sold price for the month – the midpoint at which half of all homes sold – was $200,000. That’s a 5.7 percent increase from the median price recorded last March, $189,250.

That marked the fourth month in the past six the median sold price has been $200,000 or greater, a streak last recorded in Spring 2012.

Inventory also grew in March, with Realtors® adding more than 200 listings. As of April 12 there were 2,458 homes on the market.

Interest rates continued attracting buyers. The 30-year fixed rate fell a half-percent from early March to April, from 4.38 percent to 3.66 percent as of April 9, according to lending giant Freddie Mac.

In that same time span the 15-year fixed rate declined from 3.03 percent to 2.93 percent.

The low rates combined with a long-standing buyers’ market in the local area are hopeful signs for increased real estate activity as the traditional busy season begins.

“It’s hard to believe that 3 to 4 percent mortgage rates are still with us,” said Pam Vines, president of the High Country Association of Realtors®. “It’s really quite remarkable.”

The READReport, which tracks all real estate transactions in the three-county area, reported 234 properties sold in March well above the 206 sold in March 2014. Yet the cumulative sale price was down slightly, from $40.3 million to $40.06 million.

The average sale price for all property transactions in March was $171,179 according to the READReport, a 13 percent decrease from the average in March 2014, when it was $195,667.

Year to date, property sales are up 12 percent, from 563 in the first three months of 2014 to 628 this year.

With regard to national trends, the High Country market could be impacted by a spike in demand for vacation homes.

According to the 2015 Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), there were 1.13 million vacation-home sold last year, the most since the statistic began being tracked in 2003.

It was a 57 percent increase compared to 2013, when 717,000 vacation homes were sold.

The survey also reported decreases in investment-home sales (down 7.4 percent) and owner-occupied purchases (down 12.8 percent) in that same time span.

“Affluent households have greatly benefited from strong growth in the stock market in recent years, and the steady rise in home prices has likely given them reassurance that real estate remains an attractive long-term investment,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “Furthermore, last year’s impressive increase also reflects long-term growth in the numbers of baby boomers moving closer to retirement and buying second homes to convert into their primary home in a few years.”

The median sales price of both vacation and investment homes declined in 2014. The median vacation home price was $150,000, down 11.1 percent from $168,700 in 2013. The median investment-home sales price was $125,000, down 3.8 percent from $130,000 a year ago.

Snow surprise to wake up to

It’s been a very wintry winter so far this season in the High Country. Seems nary a week has gone by this month without a snow event. The latest was an unexpected surprise, with more than three inches of snow falling overnight.

Here are some of the scenes shared on social media.

Buyers’ market conditions continue in the High Country

BOONE – Local real estate sales started the new year as they traditionally do – slowly. Meanwhile interest rates continue to fall.

Realtors® sold 75 residences worth $15.86 million in January, according to the High Country Multiple Listing Service, which records Realtor®-transactions in Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties.

January sales graphicIt was the quietest month of sales recorded since January 2013, when just 64 listings were sold. January also broke a streak of six straight months of plus-100 sales, and recorded a year-to-year decline of 8.5 percent compared to sales last year at this time (82 listings sold).

The early months of the year are traditionally soft in sales. Since 2008, Realtors® have sold an average of 64.8 homes in January. The biggest change in that span, though, was the price at which those homes have sold.

From January 2008 to January 2013, the median sale price for the month was well over $200,000, peaking at $250,000 in 2010. Last January the median sale price recorded was $168,500, a decline of 23.4 percent from the prior January.

Last month the midpoint of all sale prices was $165,000, down 2 percent from a year ago.

These market conditions appear to remain strong in the High Country, which should encourage more potential buyers to explore the area’s real estate opportunities.

“With our local median sale price continuing to decline and interest rates attractively low, we believe all of our communities and mountains will attract new buyers to the area,” said Pam Vines, president of the High Country Association of Realtors.

Local inventory is at its lowest level in more than a year, with 2,227 residential listings as of February 8.

The READReport, which tracks all real estate transactions in the three-county area, reported 180 sales in January, a slight increase from the 174 sold in January 2014. Total value was $50.09 million, with 41 percent coming from commercial sales.

Along with prices, prospective buyers should be encouraged thanks to interest rates continuing to decline. As of February 5, the nationwide average for a 30-year mortgage dropped from 3.66 percent to 3.59 percent. The rate for the 15-year loan went from 2.98 to 2.92

Rates are now at their lowest levels since May 2013, and well below where they were this time last year. In January 2014 the average 30-year mortgage rate was 4.23 percent and the 15-year rate was 3.33 percent.

“With interest rates at lows not seen since early 2013, the strength in existing sales in upcoming months will largely depend on the willingness of current homeowners to realize their equity gains from the past couple years and trade up,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist with the National Association of Realtors®.

Nationally, home sales declined in 2014, down 3.1 percent compared to 2013. The High Country saw a slight increase, with sales up 4.5 percent. Prices were flat though, with the median sale price down just under one percent.


Real estate activity in 2014 hits six-year high

Comparing 2013 to 2014 sales

2014 was a great year to buy into the High Country real estate market. Interest rates were low, inventory was strong, and prices attracted attention.

For the fourth consecutive year, Realtor®-assisted home sales increased in the three-county area. The 1,363 homes sold were a 4.5 percent increase over 2013, and 7.7 percent better than 2012.

It was also the most listings sold in a year since 2008, when 1,291 transactions were recorded by the High Country Multiple Listings Service, which tracks Realtor® transactions in Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties.

The activity was driven by long-standing buyers’ market conditions. The median sold price for the year – the midpoint at which all homes sold, with half selling for more and half selling for less – was $188,500, the lowest such price in at least eight years, and the third straight year it’s declined.

The median sold price was down just under a percent from 2013 ($189,500), and down 5.3 percent from 2012 ($199,000).

To further define the state of the local market today, look to 2011. In that year Realtors® sold 1,019 homes for a median price of $212,000. Fast forward to 2014, and sales have increased 34 percent while the median sale price has fallen 11 percent.

Total value for homes sold in 2014 was $320.55 million, down $13 million from 2013.

As the calendar year ended interest rates remained low and inventory was steady. There were 2,244 listings active in the MLS as of January 10.

High Country Association of Realtors® President Pam Vines is encouraging first time home buyers to take note of the lower median price of homes in the High Country as well as the historically low mortgage interest rates.

“This may be the right time to start looking for that first home,” she said.

nar_graphic_dec_-2014In December local Realtors® sold 106 homes for $24.76 million. The median price was $190,000. It was the busiest December since 2012, when 109 homes sold for $26.01 million. The median price then was $200,250.

The year-end READReport, which tracks all real estate sells in the three-county area, also recorded an increase in sales and decrease in prices. There were 2,954 transactions worth $532.89 million in 2014. There were 2,918 such sales the year prior, for $531.27 million.

Interest rates continue to defy expectations. As of January 8, 2015 the average rate for a 30-year mortgage was 3.73 percent, its lowest mark since May 2013, according to Freddie Mac. The average for a 15-year mortgage was 3.05 percent.

A year ago, most analysts were predicting mortgage rates would surpass 5 percent in 2014. Lawrence Yun, chief economist with the National Association of Realtors®, expects those rates to finally begin to rise in 2015. He also foresees enough pent-up demand that existing home sales nationally should increase around seven percent this year.

Local Realtors support Habitat for Humanity

Check presentation to Habitat for Humanity
(from left) Incoming High Country Association of Realtors® president Pam Vines, former HCAR president Sam Taylor and HCAR Executive Officer Laurie A. Phillips present a $4,000 check to Watauga Country Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Alex Hooker.

Local Realtors® recently continued their tradition of support for the community by presenting a $4,000 check to Watauga County Habitat for Humanity.

Half of the donation was directly from the High Country Association of Realtors® (HCAR), which represents Realtors in Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties. The other originated from Homes4NC, a housing foundation created by the North Carolina Association of Realtors® (NCAR).

The check was presented by HCAR Executive Officer Laurie Phillips, incoming HCAR president Pam Vines and current HCAR President Sam Taylor. Alex Hooker Executive Director for the Watauga Country Habitat for Humanity received the check at the December general meeting of the Realtor association.

“Many people in the community are not aware of the fact that Realtors® don’t just sell houses,” said Phillips. “We are an integral part of the community with over 500 members in the three-county area. Each year we work to give back by donating our time and money to help make the American dream of owning a home achievable.”

HCAR is composed of Realtors® from the surrounding area who maintain a marketplace where buyers and sellers can safely transfer property under the guidance of a professional held to standards of excellence. It also seeks to support and grow various non-profits and community organizations.

Homes4NC provides grants to housing organizations that assist first-time homebuyers, the homeless, families in crisis, victims of natural disasters and more community projects. It is led by a volunteer board of directors made up of Realtors®, NCAR members, local executives and representatives from other housing-related organizations.

Real Estate Report: Sale pace slightly ahead of last year

Sales graph

Mortgage rates are at lows for the year

BOONE – The strong summer of real estate sales continued in September, and slightly outpaced last year’s rate.

Since May, local Realtors® have sold an average of 125 listings a month, according to the High Country Multiple Listing Service, which tracks activity in Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties. That’s just ahead of the same span from last year, when an average of 123 were sold.

Year to date, Realtors® have sold 973 homes in the region. That’s a 2.5 percent increase compared to last year through September, when 949 were sold.

Sales are likely being driven by long standing buyer’s market conditions. The median sale price this year – the point at which half of all homes sold above or below – is $184,000. That’s well below last year’s median sale price through nine months, $195,000.

The competitive prices are attracting buyers. Last month there were 139 Realtor®-assisted sales worth $33.33 million, and a median sale price of $195,000. It was the best September for sales since 2007, before the national housing collapse, when 161 homes worth $54.2 sold for a media price of $255,000.

There were also 310 new listings last month, the fewest since March. As of October 19 there were 3,167 listings within the MLS, a near high for the year.

“We are thankful for the slight increase in our market, which is directly related to a vast inventory and decrease in the median sales price,” said Laurie Phillips, executive officer of High Country Association of Realtors®. “The national home sales report reflects a decrease in sales, however, our area is unique and we are cautiously optimistic that the market will continue to stabilize.”

With regard to all property sold in the three-county area, including commercial lots and land, total sales are up 1 percent compared to this time last year. There have been 2,182 properties sold worth $389.36 in 2014, according to the monthly READReport. It also found inventory levels remain at a near all-time high.

Meanwhile, mortgage rates are at lows for the year. According to Freddie Mac, the average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage fell to 3.97 percent as of October 19, well below the average 4.53 percent back in January. The average rate for a 15-year mortgage, which is one of the most opted methods for people who are looking for refinancing, dipped to 3.18 percent from 3.30 percent.

The High Country hasn’t followed the latest national trends. According to the National Association of Realtors®, existing home sales slowed in August, the last month in which data is available. Sales decreased 1.8 percent from July. Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says sales activity remains stronger than earlier in the year, but remains below this time last year.

Locally, Realtor®-assisted sales hit a seven-year high in August, with 170 listings sold. That was a 35 percent increase compared to July. The median sold price remained nearly unchanged though, growing from $187,400 to $187,500.