Early Spring Thaw in Homes for Sale? Listings Up 10%

Economy Mortgage Rates
AP
Brutal winter storms in much of the country didn't stop home sellers from being optimistic about the housing market, with 10 percent more properties for sale nationwide in February compared to a year ago, according to data released today by realtor.com. The median list price increased 7.6 percent to $199,000 during the same time, according to the National Housing Trend Report.

Along with more homes being put up for sale at higher prices, the median age of the inventory went up 6.5 percent from a year ago to a median of 114 days, or almost four months. Homes being on the market longer can help turn what's now considered a strong seller's market into a better situation for buyers.

"We're still seeing a stronger sellers' market. We're slowly, hopefully moving more toward equilibrium," says Steve Berkowitz, CEO of Move, Inc., operator of realtor.com, the official website of the National Association of Realtors.

This good news doesn't necessarily mean that the normally busy spring buying season is starting earlier, but it could open the door to more spring sales. Sellers are showing that they're more confident than they were a year ago and are willing to put up homes for sale that they might have previously held back on because they had little or no equity in them, Berkowitz says.

"It could be a sign that more housing is coming on the market," he says.

Why more listings? Home sellers could be putting their homes on the market well before the spring buying season because they think they'll beat the competition and get the price they want now. "With the inventory you may get a better price," Berkowitz says.

"Life events" associated with housing changes --- such as births, children entering school, and aging homeowners downsizing -- are again causing homeowners to move because they can afford to if they have more equity in their homes as home prices increase. Low interest rates for home loans can also be a reason for more home listings.

The 7.6 percent increase in home price listings is another sign of seller confidence going into the selling season. However, of the 121 markets that posted annual gains in median list price in February, 84 markets rose less than 10 percent, according to the report.

California and Denver are hot: Home inventories in California have bounced back from last spring. Stockton, for example, has twice as many homes listed on realtor.com as it did a year ago. Fresno, Bakersfield, Riverside and Oakland all had year-over-year increases of 40 percent or more on the number of homes for sale.

Last year was an anomaly with a low level of inventory, Berkowitz says. Homes have been on the market for a median of almost four months, a 6.5 percent increase from a year ago, but in a healthy market the housing inventory would be six to eight months old and creating more of a buyer's market, he says.

"It's a little bit of a healthier market," he says of the inventory improvement.

Among the 10 largest markets with declining inventories from a year ago, Denver and Chicago are relatively strong markets. Median list prices from a year ago were up 19.6 percent in Denver and 14.3 percent in Chicago. Lower inventory in those areas will likely increase housing prices into the 2014 homebuying season, according to realtor.com. These areas and a handful of other Colorado markets are unlikely to have the same appreciation that California had much of last year, since the deficits aren't as large.

Weak markets still persist, the report found, with list prices dropping by more than 1 percent in February in 14 markets. These are typically in older, industrialized areas such as Shreveport, La., Rochester, N.Y., and Omaha, Neb.

TOP CITIES FOR PRICE INCREASES

The top 10 metropolitan statistical areas with the greatest year-over-year list price increases, followed by percentage increase and median list price for February 2014 are:
  1. Stockton-Lodi, Calif.: 38%, $248,600
  2. Las Vegas: 26%, $177,500
  3. Reno: 26%, $259,900
  4. Detroit: 26%, $119,900
  5. Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif.: 24%, $292,800
  6. Orange County, Calif.: 23%, $599,900
  7. Fresno, Calif.: 21%, $229,000
  8. Bakersfield, Calif.: 20%, $179,999
  9. Los Angeles-Long Beach: 20%, $449,999
  10. Denver: 19%, $329,000
TOP CITIES FOR INVENTORY INCREASES

Cities with the greatest year-over-year inventory increases, with percentage increase and followed by total listings for February, are:
  1. Stockton-Lodi: 101%, 1,740
  2. Fresno: 53%, 2,933
  3. Bakersfield: 52%, 2,754
  4. Orlando, Fla.: 49%, 13,425
  5. Riverside-San Bernardino: 46%, 21,221
  6. Phoenix-Mesa, Ariz.: 45%, 23,654
  7. Oakland, Calif.: 42%, 2,715
  8. Minneapolis-St. Paul: 38%, 15,431
  9. Lakeland-Winter Haven, Fla.: 38%, 4,247

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