Solid year of home sales fuels optimism for '13
BY PAULA WOLF, Staff Writer
Lancaster County home sales ended last year on a positive note, continuing the strong, consistent performance that characterized the market during 2012.
The president of the local Realtors association says that trend is likely to stay here, with anecdotal evidence showing a high level of activity as 2013 gets under way.
Pending sales -- a good barometer of future settlements -- rose more than 19 percent, from 4,167 in 2011 to 4,968 in 2012, according to the Lancaster County Association of Realtors.
In December, pending sales climbed from 260 to 270, which means every month in 2012 except one reported an increase in that category over the previous year.
And final sales largely tracked the increase in pending sales, with settlements growing 16 percent, from 4,006 in 2011 to 4,645 in 2012.
"The whole year was a recovery from start to finish" in the local real estate market, said LCAR President Mike Julian.
An agent and associate broker with RE/MAX Associates of Lancaster, Julian said the people in his office are busier than they were last January, and he knows mortgage lenders are doing more business.
Backing up this optimism, the national real estate forecast for 2013 points to more growth, too, he said.
Julian said the climb in average sale price -- from $175,233 in 2011 to $183,601 in 2012 -- indicates "different parts of the market are moving," including higher price ranges.
The median sale price also went up, from $162,500 in 2011 to $166,900 last year. (Half of homes sold above the median, and half sold below.)
Buyers were more cautious in 2011, he said, but now move-up purchasers especially seem increasingly confident.
The LCAR report shows ample evidence that section of the market is picking up steam.
Houses sold in the $200,000-$249,999 price range, for example, jumped from 527 in 2011 to 676 in 2012, a 28.3 percent improvement.
In the $300,000-$399,999 price category, sales surged 61.1 percent, from 198 in 2011 to 319 last year.
The two highest price ranges also exhibited healthy growth.
In the $400,000-$499,999 category, 93 houses sold in 2012 compared to 65 in 2011, an increase of 43.1 percent.
For homes priced at $500,000 and above, the sales numbers rose 38.9 percent, from 54 in 2011 to 75 last year.
According to a Multiple Listing Service report from agent Steve Huber, of RE/MAX Associates of Lancaster, four properties under 5 acres sold for at least $1 million in 2012.
Not too long before that, Julian said, the million dollar market "was dry as a bone."
Huber said purchasers of high-end residences here are a combination of local people and relocators from areas such as Washington, D.C.
Current conditions represent a "perfect storm" for buyers, he said, with homes listed for sale offering excellent value while mortgage interest rates remain unbelievably low.
Nationally, the average for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage in the middle of last week was 3.47 percent, according to bankrate.com.
It's even lower for 15-year loans, which some purchasers are opting for, Huber said. One buyer he worked with was able to get a 15-year rate of 2.375 percent.
Lower mortgage rates mean people get more house for the money, he said, making it easier for them to buy their dream home.