From the Press of Atlantic City:
Housing sales increased in January over the same period last year, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday, with sales of existing homes up 4.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.6 million sales.
Sales of single-family homes rose 3.8 percent; the number of first-time homebuyers, a key element for a housing recovery, went up slightly and represented 33 percent of all sales. A healthy market usually shows first-time buyers making up 40 percent of sales.
“Things are actually going well. I’m kind of excited about how the year is starting off,” Anthony D’Alicandro, president of the Atlantic City and County Board of Realtors and owner of Coldwell Banker Casa Bella Realtors in Linwood, said Wednesday.
Atlantic County saw a 1.3 percent increase in the sales of existing homes last month, D’Alicandro said, when including single-family dwellings, condominiums and townhouses.
Sales had declined sharply in the fourth quarter of 2011, not because of a lack of buyers, but due to a shortage of homes on the market, D’Alicandro said. That is because New Jersey was slower than other states to allow foreclosures to continue after the “robo-signing” scandal of late 2010.
“New Jersey is just starting to see a pickup in inventory,” D’Alicandro said.
Prices are likely to remain flat for some time, as a glut of foreclosures starts to hit the market, D’Alicandro said. Banks will work aggressively to get the distressed homes off their lists, and some have not been well-maintained.
Real estate agent Hader Rivas of Re/Max Atlantic in Northfield said he is getting busy showing homes to prospective buyers. In fact, he just sold a unit earlier Wednesday, he said.
“They’re finally coming off the fence and (realizing) there are a lot of great deals out there,” Rivas said. “Phones are ringing and people are looking.”
Sales declined somewhat in Ocean City, but a lot of people signed contracts to buy homes, D’Alicandro said. Once the deals close, the increases will show up in the February and March numbers, he said.
But an increasing number of contracts are being canceled, D’Alicandro said. Sometimes the buyer can’t get financing or an appraiser says the home is worth less than the agreed-upon price. But the biggest reason for ending contracts is that short sales — or selling the home for less than the money owed on it — either don’t get approved by the bank or the buyer becomes frustrated at how long the process takes.
In the remainder of Cape May County, 110 housing units of all types were sold in January, compared to 86 in January 2011, said Brian Groetsch, president of the Cape May County Association of Realtors and an agent with Re/Max At the Shore. The median sales price was down slightly, from $315,000 last year to $307,500 this year.
While the report is good news, it’s not quite time to celebrate, Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisors of Holland, Pa., and Margate, said Wednesday in a statement. Many of the homes being sold are “distressed,” or foreclosures and short sales, and some segments of the market are still not doing well.
A continuing supply of distressed homes should keep prices low, Naroff said. Also, nearly 25 percent of sales were to investors, not people planning to use the unit as a primary residence. That is good for a growing demand for rental housing, but won’t give a boost to the industry as a whole.
“While the housing market is slowly improving, there is little reason to think that the non-distressed segment of the market is poised to take off,” Naroff said. “Until the housing problems are resolved, which could take another three or more years in some regions, don’t expect sales or construction to pick up rapidly.”