Home prices: a few risers, many fallers

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For those who thought home prices had reached bottom and couldn’t decline any further, think again.

The median price of homes sold in the U.S. in the first three months of this year was 4.6 percent lower than in the first quarter of 2010, according to the National Association of Realtors’ quarterly survey.

Prices have declined in 118 of the 152 metropolitan areas included in NAR report. Overall, prices declined in all four U.S. regions.

The Midwest saw the biggest decline in prices. In the first quarter, homes in the Midwest sold for a median price of $124,400, a 5.3 percent drop compared to the same period last year. The Northeast experienced a decline of 5 percent, with a median price of $234,100. The West saw a decline of 4.7 percent, with homes selling for about $197,400. The South fared somewhat better than the other regions, with prices falling about 0.6 percent.

Top fallers
Gulfport-Biloxi, Miss. -22.8 percent
Akron, Ohio -21.4 percent
Salem, Ore. -20.6 percent
Dayton, Ohio -20.3 percent
Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, Ohio -19.7 percent
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Miami Beach, Fla. -19.7 percent
Ocala, Fla. -18.8 percent
Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, Penn.-N.J. -18.4 percent
Tucson, Ariz. -18.0 percent
Cumberland, Md.-W.V. -17.9 percent

But the good news is the lower prices have contributed to an increase in the volume of homes being sold. Total home sales, including single family homes and condos, increased by 8.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.14 million in the first three months, compared to the previous quarter.

“The rising sales trend in nearly all states is a part of the healing process to clear off inventory. Sales need to rise before prices can firm up,” says Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist.

Some fortunate areas actually saw prices increase.

The median home price rose in 34 metropolitan areas, including in Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord, N.C.-S.C., where the median home sales price increased by 12.2 percent compared to last year. That metro area was followed by Buffalo-Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Peter Cimino of Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors says home prices didn’t go through the roof during the housing boom, which has helped the area maintain home values.

“They increased as needed but it wasn’t like in most places,” he says. “The best investment in (western) New York is still your home. We continue to see growth,” and several new housing subdivisions are under construction in the area, he says.

Top risers
Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord, N.C.-S.C. 12.2 percent
Buffalo-Niagara Falls, N.Y. 10.8 percent
Burlington-South Burlington, Vt. 10.6 percent
Jackson, Miss. 9.9 percent
Florence, S.C. 9.2 percent
Decatur, Ill. 8.4 percent
Canton-Massillon, Ohio 6.7 percent
Columbia, Mo. 6.7 percent
Shreveport-Bossier City, La. 6.6 percent
Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla. 6.3 percent

Sales of distressed homes, or homes sold at deep discounts, accounted for about 39 percent of homes sold in the first quarter.

“The biggest sales increase has been in the lower price ranges, which are popular with investors and cash buyers,” Yun says. “The preponderance of sales activity at the lower end is bringing down the median price, so what we’re seeing is the result of a change in the composition of home sales.”

The volume of homes sold for $100,000 or less in the first quarter was 8.9 percent higher than during the period last year, which helped pushed down the national median sales price. All-cash deals accounted for 33 percent of home sales in the first quarter, up from 27 percent in the first quarter of 2010. Two-thirds of homes sold in the first quarter of this year were bought with the help of mortgages.

NAR President Ron Phipps says strong sales of distressed homes are needed in the current market. “The good news is foreclosures, which account for two-thirds of all distressed homes sold, are selling very quickly,” he says.

About 21 percent of homes sold in the first three months were bought by investors, NAR says.

First-time homebuyers have somewhat pulled back from the market after the expiration of the home buying tax credit last year. First-time homebuyers accounted for 42 percent of all homes sold in the first quarter of 2010. That number has declined to 32 percent in the first three months of this year.