Area home sales down in November, average prices rise

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

Sales of homes in the Fort Smith region showed mixed results in November, with Crawford County beating November 2012's figures by 76.46% while Sebastian County's home sales figures dropped 25.98% for the same period.

In Crawford County, 50 homes were sold last month, showing a sales volume of $5.74 million, an increase from the same month last year when only 31 homes were sold for a sales volume of $3.253 million.

Sebastian County posted the sale of 72 homes valuing $9.546 million, down considerably from last year's 105 homes sold for a collective $12.896 million.

According to Betty Lyles, managing broker at Chuck Fawcett Realty's Van Buren office, Crawford County's drastic increase in home sales could be tied to Van Buren's upcoming loss of rural development loans, which allow some buyers to purchase homes with no money down and low closing costs.

"That's probably got a lot to do with it – trying to get in at the tail end of (the rural development loan). If you're not already in the pipeline, you won't get in."

The loans, Lyles said, will no longer be available to first-time buyers in the Van Buren market due to the city's estimated population now standing at more than 25,000. Should the Farm Bill be renewed, Van Buren would be among the cities to continue eligibility through the year 2020 based on population estimates. The bill would also raise the population limit defining a rural community to 35,000.

Besides rural development loans, Lyles said other drivers in the sales boom in Crawford County last month have been an influx of residents making a living in the medical field and buyers looking to get low interest rates before they go higher.

"The 3.5% (interest rates) are gone and I think it has scared people," she said. "But rates are still good. 4.5% is a good rate, but the 3.5% is probably going to be gone for good now."

But even with the surge in sales last month, Crawford County is still showing a decline in home sales for 2013 of 5.13%, while Sebastian County is showing an increase of 9.4% in year-to-date sales figures over 2012.

A contributing factor in Crawford County's decline, according to Lyles, is the number of higher-priced homes that aren't moving.

"You get up into the $300,000 range and it's really hard (to sell), unless someone specifically has the money to do it. It's just hard to move homes in that price range."

Average sale prices for 2013 reflect Lyle's claim, with Crawford County's average sale price at $111,816, a decrease from 2012's figure of $119,127, while Sebastian County's average sale price was $137,532 compared to $137,716 for the same month last year.

Overall, she said 2014 could be a good year for the housing market if other external factors work in the region's favor.

"If the overall economy straightens out a bit, I think that will help us," Lyles said. "But our area ... Arkansas has always been at the tail end of everything. And we've also had a lot of foreclosures and short sales, which has affected the market. But as those start going away, I think the market will start getting better."

Home Sales Data (January-November)
• Crawford County
Unit Sales
2013: 471
2012: 466

Total Sales Volume
2013: $52.665 million
2012: $55.513 million

Median Sales Price
2013: $106,250
2012: $112,000

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• Sebastian County
Unit Sales
2013: 1,125
2012: 1,027

Total Sales Volume
2013: $154.724 million
2012: $141.434 million

Median Sales Price
2013: $115,000
2012: $118,000

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