Year end figures for Fort Smith area home sales posted mixed results with Crawford County continuing a slide in home sales while Sebastian County posted double-digit growth during 2013.
Starting with the month of December, Crawford County posted a decline of 6.24% in home sales value, with only 44 sales in the last month of 2013 worth $4.375 million versus 36 homes sold in December 2012 worth $4.666 million.
It was the exact opposite story in Sebastian County, which saw an increase of 16.22% in December 2013 with 94 homes sold at a value of $13.457 million versus 87 homes sold in December 2012 with a value of $11.578 million.
Looking at all of 2013, 515 homes were sold at a value of $57.039 million in Crawford County. The number represents a drop of 5.22% from 2012's total of $60.179 million.
Sebastian County saw 1,220 homes sold during 2013 with a total value of $168.405 million, a 10.06% increase from 2012's total of 1,114 homes sold for a value of $153.012 million.
Linda Spradlin, principal broker at Assurance Realty in Fort Smith, said Sebastian County's rise during the last year could be tied to the improving economy in the region.
"Well, Sebastian County has brought in a few more businesses than Crawford County," she said. "With our hospitals, HMA (Health Management Associates) and Mercy growing, they have produced more buyers."
She also pointed to an expansion of jobs at Baldor as being a sign of a strengthening economy, resulting in customers having higher discretionary income to spend on items such as real estate.
"Even though they (Baldor) brought in some (new) people, they also (have current staff) getting better jobs, so they can move up. So our sales may be up 10%, but it may not really identify that we really have that many more people moving into the area," Spradlin said. "It could mean that we just have existing people who are getting better, higher paying jobs and they are able to improve their living standard."
As for Crawford County's downturn, Spradlin said while it was hard to determine the exact cause of the 5.22% decline in home sales, uncertainty about the future of the USDA's rural development loan program had been hanging over the county for much of the latter months of 2013, affecting sales in the county's largest city of Van Buren, which is approaching the maximum population for participation in the program. Proposals to include an increase in population from 25,000 to 35,000 for eligible communities has not yet been able to pass the U.S. Congress as part of a larger Farm Bill.
"I don't know where we stand (as far as the status of rural development loans), but that definitely hurts Crawford County. That hurt us a bit, too. Not in Fort Smith, but in the outlying areas like Greenwood and Hackett."
Spradlin said while Sebastian County's numbers looked strong for last year, one area that continued to be a drag on the market in 2013 were foreclosures. Even though the number of foreclosures in the Fort Smith market declined last year, she said it likely still effected sale prices for new and existing homes.
"That would have a direct impact on those home sales. You know, appraisers — even though they say they don't use foreclosures heavily — it has to effect their judgment at some point if they put that in as a comparable."
The median sale price in Sebastian County declined 1.71% from 2012 to 2013, with 2013 posting an MSP of only $115,000 versus 2012's MSP of $117,000. Crawford County's MSP fared worse, falling 6.67% from $112,500 in 2012 to $105,000 in 2013.
As for what 2014 holds, Spradlin said buyers and sellers should expect a solid year should Fort Smith continue its trend of job growth and falling unemployment.
"It's sort of like with the whole economy thing," she said. "We were slow to get into the recession and we'll be slow to come out. ... I think the future is going to be dictated, pretty much, by our past. It means slow, moderate growth."
Home Sales Data
(January - December)
• Crawford County
Total Sales Volume
2013: $57.040 million
2012: $60.179 million
Median Sales Price
• Sebastian County
Total Sales Volume
2013: $168.405 million
2012: $153.012 million
Media Sales Price