Triangle Housing Market Improves

Home sales across the Triangle rose 26 percent in July compared with a year ago, continuing a streak of double-digit increases in 2012.

The latest numbers were better than expected for Stacey Anfindsen, a Cary appraiser who analyzes Multiple Listing Services data for area real estate agents. The MLS data cover Durham, Johnston, Orange and Wake counties.

While the sales increases recorded over the first six months benefited from being compared with dismal sales in the first half of 2011, the year-over-year comparisons for July offered more competition, he said.

Other signs of an improving market: Pending sales rose 27 percent, and the average time a house was on the market declined. Houses were on the market an average of 112 days in July, down from 128 last year.

Prices, however, fell ever so slightly. The average sales price for new and resold homes was $242,000, versus $243,000 a year ago.

“The thing that continues to surprise me is the drop in inventory,” Anfindsen said. “Inventory is down 23 percent.”

Inventory typically rises when the housing market is on the upswing, because homeowners want to take advantage of the environment, he said. But in July, several factors contributed to the inventory decline.

“Distressed inventory” – for example, homes sold because of a foreclosure – fell 12 percent, and the inventory of new homes fell 28 percent.

“Historically, new homes have been able to pick up the slack whenever there has been a spike in demand,” Anfindsen said. But today homebuilders can’t ramp up construction because of the limited availability of capital.

A third factor is that people who bought homes in 2008, 2009 and 2010 can’t realize what they paid for their house in a sale because of a drop in value – and therefore can’t afford to put their house on the market.

The upshot is that in July, there was a five-month supply of housing on the market, down from a 10-month supply two years ago.

If demand continues to rise while the supply remains slack, “eventually you’re going to have to see house prices go up,” Anfindsen said. “If these trends continue, that is something I would expect to see in the second half of this year.”

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