Augusta metro area home sales higher in February

Nationally, sales declined 0.6 percent

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Home sales in the Augusta metro area rose in February, bucking the national trend.

The National Association of Realtors said Tuesday that sales of previously occupied homes dropped 0.6 percent in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.02 million. That is a decline for three straight months.

According to the Greater Augusta Association of Realtors, there were 337 homes sold in February, up from 296 in January. Sales were also higher than February 2009.

The median sales price of a home purchased last month was $136,000, higher than the $127,000 median price in January.

Nationally, the median home price dropped almost 2 percent from a year ago to $165,100.

The For Sale signs are sitting out front of Augusta-Aiken homes longer than last year, however. The average number of days a house sat on the market was 163 in February. It was 133 days a year ago.

Sales activity varied across the country. In the Midwest, sales jumped almost 3 percent, and were up more than 2 percent in the Northeast. In the South, sales fell about 1 percent, and were down almost 5 percent in the West.

"Until job growth resumes, housing demand will remain weak and susceptible to another lurch down when the homebuyer tax credit expires in April," said Sal Guatieri, an economist at BMO Capital Markets.

To keep mortgage rates low, the Federal Reserve has spent almost $1.25 trillion. In addition, Congress extended a deadline for homebuyers to qualify for tax credits. Both programs are set to end soon.

High unemployment and tough lending standards appear to be holding buyers back. That could derail housing as it tries to emerge from the worst downturn in decades and harm the overall economy.

Last month, the inventory of unsold homes jumped by 312,000 to 3.59 million, an unusually large increase that pushed the supply of unsold homes to 8.6 months.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the Realtors, called that increase "discomforting" and said if it climbs above 10 months supply it could put significant downward pressure on prices.

There is a $8,000 credit for first-time buyers and a $6,500 credit for current homeowners who have lived in their property for the past five years.

Buyers must sign sales contracts by the end of April and complete their purchases by the end of June to qualify for the tax credits. So far, however, there has been little indication that the tax credit extension is generating much activity.

"In recent months sales have reversed the bulk of the increase driven by the first round of the tax credit," said Paul Dales, an economist with Capital Economics.

The Associated Press contributed to this story


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