Hanna and a number of other area real estate agents are feeling pretty confident in that message these days.
Through June 12, the number of homes sold by the Greater Erie Board of Realtors was up more than 4 percent from the previous year, while the average price of those homes was up nearly 8 percent.
Numbers for the first three months of the year were even more dramatic.
Through the end of March, home prices in Erie County were up 16.6 percent, the third largest jump of any major market in the United States, according to a report in Real Estate Broker’s Insider.
To a lesser degree, there’s mounting evidence that the U.S. real estate market as a whole is improving.
A report Tuesday from the Standard and Poor’s Case-Shiller home price index shows that housing prices improved during April in 19 of our 20 largest cities.
And a measure of national prices rose 1.3 percent in April from March, the first increase in seven months.
Hanna can easily explain the improvements in Cape Coral, Fla., and Grand Rapids, Mich., the two markets that top the list of most improved. Both, he said, were hit hard during the recession and are showing signs of bouncing back.
Erie was different. The area’s steady-as-she-goes real estate market saw only modest declines, during even the darkest days of the most recent recession.
Now, both statistical and anecdotal evidence suggest that the usually plodding real estate market is riding a wave.
Some of the reasons are simple, Hanna said.
“What is going on is supply and demand,” he said. “We are in a rising market. There is pent-up demand.”
Toby Froehlich, owner of Coldwell Banker Select Realtors in Erie, said the numbers don’t entirely surprise him.
“We didn’t get hit as hard with the foreclosure issues,” he said. “Two, the local economy is stronger than anyone wants to admit. You have jobs, you have record-low interest rates. It was a lot of things going on for us.”
A growing number of competitive bidding situations is more evidence of a stronger real estate market.
Hanna said his agents are making frequent use of a new program that allows prospective buyers to automatically submit a second bid if their first offer is met or surpassed.
Strong sales figures could be substantially better if it were not for one shortcoming, said John Peluso, senior vice president and regional market manager for Howard Hanna.
There aren’t enough houses to sell, particularly in the middle price range of $125,000 to $250,000, he said.
“We could probably be doing twice as much business if we had the houses,” he said.
Hanna said the inventory of houses for sale is at its lowest point since 2004.
Froehlich said local Realtors have about 1,350 single-family homes listed at the moment, about 150 fewer than he considers ideal.
Froehlich and Hanna see another soft spot in the local real estate market. Fans of new construction don’t have many options, they said.
“Construction is very weak,” Froehlich said. “There are very few builders who can get financing and very few developers who can get financing.”
Mortgage financing is available at historically low interest rates, Hanna said. But securing a loan can take time.
“There are a lot of hoops we have to jump through,” he said.
Hanna said evidence suggests that more people are deciding homeownership is worth jumping through those hoops.
After falling into the low 60 percent range during the recession, those numbers and interest in buying a home are bouncing back, he said.
JIM MARTIN can be reached at 870-1668 or by e-mail.
©2012 the Erie Times-News (Erie, Pa.)
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