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Housing market to gradually improve this summer

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Melissa Solares wants her family of four to be in their new home before school starts back in August.

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Arturo and Melissa Solares stand with 5-year-old son, Arturo, and 17-month-old daughter, Carmen, on the front steps of their new home in River Island subdivision in Evans. The couple wanted to move now because they expect interest rates to begin rising.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Arturo and Melissa Solares stand with 5-year-old son, Arturo, and 17-month-old daughter, Carmen, on the front steps of their new home in River Island subdivision in Evans. The couple wanted to move now because they expect interest rates to begin rising.

Jenna Martin
Business Reporter
Twitter: @JennaNMartin
E-mail | 706-823-3217

Arturo and Melissa Solares want a smooth transition for their 5-year-old son, Arturo, who was diagnosed with autism and is starting kindergarten this year. They are scheduled to close on a home in River Island subdivision on June 20.

“We needed the time over the summer to go through it and have him be able to process it,” Melissa Solares said. “The other big driver was that interest rates are going nowhere but up, and we felt like we had to strike this summer while the iron was hot.”

The Solares family is part of a housing trend this summer that is expected to bring continued gradual improvement to the housing market, as indicated by local realtors and national experts.

According to the National Association of Realtors, home contract activity is the highest since April 2010, which coincided with the home buyer tax credit deadline. Total existing-home sales are expected to increase nationally by about 7 percent this year.

In the metro Augusta region, where properties are currently sitting on the market for about 161 days, there were 428 home closings in May, according to Greater Augusta Association of Realtors President Lili Youngblood.

Last summer, 1,990 homes were closed on in the area from May to August­ – the highest rate since 2007 when there were nearly 2,300 closings before the housing market plummeted.

Summer is typically the busiest time for home searchers in this area because there’s often an influx of medical and military residents in addition to school being out, said Re/Max True Advantage broker Philip Jones.

With the 30-year fixed mortgage rate expected to rise above 4 percent by the end of 2013, it’s also a good time to take advantage of the market, he said.

“You can obviously afford more house,” Jones said.

New construction homes continue to dominate the local residential real estate market. Beginning to see an increase, however, are re-sale homes that are appealing to home buyers who would rather live closer to Augusta and not in Grovetown, Jones said.

The main price point for resale homes has generally been between $350,000 and $450,000, he said.

Location was key when the Solares family decided they needed more space than their 1,900-square-foot townhome offered.

“We like the community so we knew we wanted to say in the Evans area,” Melissa Solares said. “It was just figuring out which neighborhood to go into.”

Though she’s kept her eye on the market for the past four years, she said it took only a week to find their dream home after they started seriously looking.

Much of the country is seeing the housing market shift to the seller’s advantage, said Walter Molony, an economic issues media
manager for the National Association of Realtors.

“We’re going to be seeing sustained price growth moving forward and that’s going to be predicated directly on the supply-and-demand balance,” he said. “We’ve got a pent-up demand.”

During the recession, young adults generally stayed longer at home and more people lived in more crowded quarters to save money, which put pressure on the rental market, Molony said.

“We’ve seen a situation of household formation roaring back to normal this year,” he said. “You’ve got rental demand rising and home purchases rising simultaneously but housing and construction have been below normal. We need to see construction pick up 50 percent over current levels to get us a better supply and demand.”

Tyson Schuetze, the owner of Auben Realty, said the road to recovery for the housing industry is just beginning and will likely be a slow one.

There has been a slight improvement in home sales locally from 2,038 through June 2012 to 2,095 from that same point this year, he said.

“The main factors that seem to be leading the market recovery are primarily low interest rates and reduced inventory,” Schuetze said. “What is definitely undeniable is the inventory of active home sales has dramatically decreased from years past.”

HOME SALES

The total number of homes sold in the Augusta area from May through August in these years:

2012 -  1,990

2011 1,855

2010 1,823

2009 1,715

2008 1,771

2007 2,277

Source: Greater Augusta Association of Realtors

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