High Country Realtors Post Best Sales Since 2008

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    First quarter real estate sales in the High Country were the highest since 2008, according to the High Country Association of Realtors, which represents 600 members in Avery, Ashe and Watauga counties.

    For the months of January through March, 234 Realtor-assisted properties sold in Avery, Ashe and Watauga counties, the association announced April 20.

    Total sales were $61.25 million, as recorded by the High Country Multiple Listing Service. The first quarter 2012 numbers are 27 percent higher than the same three months last year, and more than 60 percent higher than 2010, the association said.

    First quarter sales in the three-county region peaked in 2007, when 363 properties sold for $96.69 million. They then declined for three straight years until first quarter 2010, with just 146 properties sold for $37.17 million, according to the organization.

    “We are seeing some positive signs that the market has bottomed out and we are now experiencing slow, but definite gains in our area,” said Laurie Phillips, executive officer of the association. The average selling price remains steady. The average price in this year’s first quarter was $261,735, down slightly from $261,882 in 2011. In 2007, the average selling price was $266,373. Phillips did not return phone calls as of presstime.

    While overall real estate sales continue to rise since bottoming out in 2010, the growth in home sales is much more gradual. From 2010 to 2011, the association saw an increase of 8 percent in the number of homes sold, and the average home price nudged 3 percent higher last year.

    Lisa Pittman, mortgage loan officer for High Country Bank in Linville, said High Country Bank’s parent company, Yadkin Valley Bank, saw home mortgage loans in March 2012 increase 57 percent over the number of loans issued in March 2011. Home loans issued in first quarter 2012 jumped 10.6 percent over first quarter 2011.

    Developments targeted for student housing are considered commercial properties, Pittman noted.Pittman said the requirements for receiving a home mortgage haven’t changed since the housing market crashed, but the types of loans offered have.

    “The same people who were qualified applicants for a mortgage loan in 2007 still can obtain a loan today; the only difference is the loans require a more thorough review,” she said. “There are more products being offered now that help homeowners who will benefit to refinance that are underwater on their appraisal. Most of these types of loan products do not require an appraisal and are a streamlined process.”

    Pittman said she expects interest rates to remain low: “I don’t think they will increase until after the first of next year, after the election, if then.”
    But Chuck Houser, home mortgage consultant at Wells Fargo in Boone, said he’s not seeing evidence of a revived housing market.

    “It’s still a re-finance world. If I had to rely on purchases for a living, I wouldn’t eat,” Houser said. “Lenders that I keep in touch with, like me, 70 percent of the business is re-finances. Purchases are not booming.”

    And Houser said requirements for home loans are more stringent than he’s seen in 26 years.“Mortgage lending is very tight. They’re getting tighter and tighter by the day,” he said.

    Originally written by Anna Oakes and published by The Watauga Democrat 4/29/2012

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