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July sales slump but market shows resilience

story by Kim Souza
ksouza@thecitywire.com

Record heat in July worked in concert with lackluster employment prospects to hold back home sales in Sebastian and Crawford counties.

MountData.com reports preliminary home sales in Sebastian County were off some 15% from the July 2011 figures. Agents sold 85 homes valued at $12.302 million, compared to 110 sales worth $14.343 million in the year-ago period.

Crawford County didn’t do much better with 37 sales valued at $4.758 million. This compared to  42 sales a year ago and accumulated volume of $4.982 million, according to the latest report from MountData.com.

Kevin King, broker with Weichert King Realtors in Fort Smith, said while sales transactions are lower in some months against last year, one positive he sees in 2012 is that prices are moving higher and tracking a national trend in that direction.

A report from the National Association of Realtors last week indicated 110 out of 147 metropolitan statistical areas across the county reported rising home prices through June.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said home prices are set to rise in even more markets during upcoming quarters.

“It’s most encouraging to see a growing number of metro areas with rising median prices, which is improving the equity position of existing homeowners. Inventory has been trending down and home builders are still under-producing in relation to growing demand,” Yun said. “Some of the improvement in prices is due to a smaller share of sales in low price ranges where inventory is tight.”

Crawford County reported a median home price through July to be $110,000, compared to $105,000 in 2011. Sebastian County had a median price of $125,000 in July up 13.35% from a year ago.

King said a few years ago when Fort Smith had a stronger employment market the majority of homes selling were priced around $150,000. Today he says it’s more in the range of $75,000 to $125,000. But that hasn’t kept median and average pricing from rising above lows hit last year.

Through the month of July, home sales totaled 620 in Sebastian County, down about 7% from the same period in 2011. Total volume stood at $83.988 million, basically flat against a year ago.

King said when you consider the jobs lost in the greater Fort Smith area, the local real estate market has showed remarkable resilience. He credits that in part to active investor buying.

“We have a strong rental market — lots of demand and not that much supply in the single family housing area. Rents are rising as a result. I know people who have opted to rent out their homes instead of selling them and it’s working out quite well for some,” King said.

He also notes the sluggish local job market has forced more household consolidation as individuals chose to share living expenses in an effort to save money.

For a certain segment of the local market he said homes are still showing well and selling, particularly in the lower price ranges.

“I had a recent listing for $80,000, a nice little home that went under contract in just a week, with multiple offers. But it doesn’t happen that often,” King said.

Mont Sagely, broker with Sagely & Edwards Realtors in Fort Smith, is also encouraged to see investors back in the local market.

“We are seeing a few foreclosure listings trickle back into the inventory and investors are snapping them up quickly which is helping to move things along. I am not sure we have yet seen the full impact of the job losses in this market, but so far we are holding our own,” Sagely said.

The Fort Smith metro area had a unemployment rate of 7.7% in June, the latest month for data is available. The overall rate fell from 8.8% a year ago. But the local labor force has also shrunk by nearly 2,400 people in the past year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The metro area had 655 fewer people employed in June than in the prior year.

Sagely added that he’s encouraged by ongoing housing recovery in Northwest Arkansas and believes Fort Smith could benefit.

“We need to see stock market gains continue and consumer confidence stabilize a bit, but overall things are looking better,” Sagely said.

Through the first seven months of 2012, Crawford County recorded 308 sales valued at $36.387 million, while unit sales are flat against last year, total volume rose 4.77% from a year ago.

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Home Sales (January through July)
Sebastian County
2012: 620 units, $83.998 million
2011: 669 units, $84.549 million
2010: 766 units, $100.757 million

Crawford County
2012: 308 units, $36.387 million
2011: 310 units, $34.721 million
2010: 311 units, $37.241 milllion
Source:MountData.com

Median Home Price (January through July)
Sebastian County
2012: $115,000
2011: $105,000
2010: $115,000

Crawford County
2012: $110,000
2011: $105,000
2010: $111,500
Source:MountData.com

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