When home sales turned sour, Alton Grange, a Hartford-area real estate agent, spent his downtime learning how to become a better matchmaker.
"No more blind dates," said Grange, who has been taking a stack of real estate courses. "Now, you make sure that the buyer is qualified to buy that three-bedroom, two-bath cape, and you make sure the seller has the right price," added Grange, of Prudential Connecticut Realty's Windsor office.
Last month heralded the start of the spring market in many areas. But although the bees might be swarming, the same can't be said of potential home buyers.
The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday that nationwide home sales rose 2.9 percent to an annual rate of 4.68 million last month, up from a revised pace of 4.55 million in March. Median sales prices plunged to $170,200, down from $201,300 in the same month last year, the second-largest price drop on record after January, when prices fell 17.5 percent.
In the Hartford area, the dollar volume of closed single-family residential sales fell 51 percent in the past two years, plummeting from $868 million in April 2007 to $436 million in April of this year.
But the number of pending single-family home sales in the Hartford area rose slightly, up 2.9 percent last month compared with April 2008, according to the Greater Hartford Association of Realtors Inc.
"It's the second month in a row that pending sales are up," said Jeff Arakelian, the association's president and chief executive. Pending sales are an indicator of sales that will close in 30 to 60 days.
Arakelian said he hopes that a stack of incentives will nudge any bashful buyers toward a purchase.
Mortgage rates are attractive. There's now an $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers. And prices are down, Arakelian said. In the Hartford area, the median sale price — where half the sales are above, half below — fell from $249,950 in April 2008 to $220,000 this April, roughly a 12 percent decline.
In spite of the incentives, some buyers are waiting for prices to drop further, or they're on the prowl for an unrealistic deal.
In Windsor, Hartford and Bloomfield, houses in "nice, move-in condition — turn-key ready — priced below $200,000 are selling," Grange said.
And in Wethersfield, Newington, Rocky Hill and West Hartford, single-family homes in the $200,000 to $300,000 range are also moving — "if they're priced right," said Clifford "Chip" Stamm at Century 21 Eddy in Newington.
According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, home prices fell 7.1 percent in the January-March period compared with a year ago, but the pace of decline eased a bit from the record drop seen in the final three months of 2008.
"The housing market looks to have found a nice stable bottom, but that seems to be about all you can say about it," said Joel Naroff, an economist at Naroff Economic Advisers.
An Associated Press report is included in this story.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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