Home sales in the region took a turn for the better last year, and industry professionals expect to build on that trend this year, both in existing and newly built homes.
"As long as these [mortgage] rates stay low, we're looking at a real good 2013," said Phil Aquila, general manager of M.J. Peterson Co.
Aquila and others say mortgage rates below 4 percent continue to create an attractive sales climate. All they need, they say, is more buyers and sellers to start taking advantage of the rates.
Western New York has long had a reputation as a housing market that avoids the extreme highs and lows of some parts of the country, like Florida, Arizona and Nevada. Real estate business leaders say that steady pattern has continued.
The Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors reported that closed sales from January through November -- the latest available numbers -- were up 8.6 percent from the same period in 2011. Closed sales in November alone were up about 6 percent from the year before.
Another trend worth watching is the number of homes on the market. In late 2012, the average was around 5,100, and the number declined on a year-over-year basis each month throughout the year to reach that point. In mid-2011, the average was as high as 7,000 units.
"Things are selling faster," Aquila said of the lower supply. "It's getting back to the way it should be."
The lower inventory presumably benefits sellers, with the reduced supply driving up prices and generating competing offers. But real estate agents also want to see enough homes on the market so that buyers who are ready to make a purchase can follow through.
Peter Hunt, chief executive officer of Hunt Real Estate Corp., said he is encouraged by current residential real estate conditions. "I think we're into kind of a fairly pleasant and protracted period of market strength."
Areas such as North Buffalo, the Elmwood Village, Hertel Avenue and the villages of Hamburg and East Aurora are doing well, supporting the premise that "walkable" neighborhoods also make for attractive real estate markets, Hunt said. And he says two-family homes, which create an investment opportunity for the buyer, are especially hot properties all over. "They make all the sense in the world, if you think about it," he said.
Hunt said if homeowners have been hesitant about putting a home on the market, the conditions are unlikely to get better than they are now. So why aren't more people taking that step?
"I think there are some people who are discouraged just because of the news of the past few years," he said.
Aquila has a similar view: If the economy starts to strengthen, he said, interest rates could start climbing, leaving people to regret they had waited to act.
Just as all real estate is local, the amount of available inventory can be price-dependent. Shortages might apply to homes in some price ranges but not in others, and availability can differ from one community to another.
Aquila says home sales are particularly strong in the $125,000 to $275,000 range. Sales at the upper end "aren't dead" but are moving more slowly, he said.
The region's median sale price was showing improvement as of late last year. In November, the 12-month average for the median sale price was $120,200, up 3.7 percent from the same period the year before. (The figure means half the homes sold for more and half sold for less than that price.)
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