As 2011 comes to a close, I’m reminded of the quote from the Dickens classic “Tale of Two Cities” – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  The news media pummeled us with doom and gloom about the local and national real estate markets, but the Lehigh Valley market was not as bad as many would have you believe.

Locally, our median price is about $155,000, so 81% of the LV homes sold in October were priced between $70K and $250K – good news for first-time homebuyers.  Existing home sales improved 7% in Oct 2011 compared to the same month last year.  The total number of homes on the market represents about an 8 month inventory at the current sales pace, again better than it was most of last year.

One of the key drivers of homes sales, the national employment rate, is beginning to show promising signs of a turnaround.  The four-week average for jobless claims, as of November 19, was 394,250, a drop of 3,250 from the previous four weeks, and at the lowest levels since April.  Consumer confidence also rose 15 points in the last month, and is now at its highest point since July of this year.  Black Friday Christmas sales certainly reflected this ebound in confidence!

In addition to improving employment conditions, home affordability also improved as interest rates fell further, opening the door for more first-time home buyers who accounted for 34% of the sales in October, an increase from 32% last month and over last year.  The western United States saw the most wide-spread increase in home sales, up 4.4% month to month and up over 15% from last year.

A strengthening job market, along with encouraging signs from the housing sector, including a 10% jump in pending sales for October, are strong economic forces.


Interest Rates
Mortgage rates continue to push lower, dropping to 3.98% from 4.23% in October of 2010, offering historic affordability to today’s home buyers.  While mortgage lending conditions continue to be a challenge, more and more people are seeing the advantage of buying a home sooner rather than later.  Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said, “Home sales have been plodding along at a sub-par level while interest rates are hovering at record lows and there is a pent-up demand from buyers who normally would have entered the market in recent years.  We hope this indicates more buyers are taking advantage of the excellent affordability conditions.”

Home Sales
Existing homes sales improved 1.4% in October, or to an annual pace of 4.97 million, a 13.5% increase from October of last year.  Even more dramatic, was the jump in pending home sales, which surged in October by 10.4% from September, and were up 9.2% from October 2010.  This jump in pending sales could lead to a strong fourth quarter as signs continue to point to a pent-up demand brought on by current lending conditions of mortgage providers.

Home Prices
The national median home price in the U.S. saw a small decline in October to $162,500, from $165,800 in September.  This number can be affected by the sale of distressed properties, which typically sell at discounted prices.  Distressed properties accounted for 28% of homes sales in October.  Yet despite a drop in the median price from last September, the Federal Housing Finance Authority reported that seasonally adjusted prices rose 0.2% in the third quarter from the second quarter in 2011, which could be an early sign of appreciating home prices.

By the end of October, the total number of homes on the market had fallen 2.2% to 3.33 million homes, which represents 8 months of inventory at the current sales pace.  Since a record high of 4.58 million homes in July 2008, the inventory of homes for sale has been steadily declining.  When homes sell faster than they come on the market, the market comes from its current favor toward buyers into balance or in favor of sellers.  This can trigger an appreciation in home prices and lead the way to a stronger recovery.

Deciding to Buy
When first-time home buyers decide they are ready to buy, it is important for them to begin the process by carefully assessing their values, wants, and needs—both for the short and long term.  This is a critical step since consultation sessions normally start with the buyers’ values.  Afterward, buyers can explore their wants and needs and, once defined, determine actual criteria.

A recent study shows how important the following home-buying factors were to buyers:

• List Price: 72%
• Location: 69%
• Neighborhood: 55%
• Floor Plan: 37%
• Square Footage: 28%
• Schools: 22%

By having the home-buying criteria in mind before walking into a consultation, buyers are off to a better start when meeting with their real estate agent.  The consultation allows buyers to fill in any missing gaps within their values, wants, and needs.

Contact Barb Bottitta for any and all of your Lehigh Valley area questions, as well as real estate needs, as I am always happy to help in any way that I can!  You can also connect with me on my Facebook Page.

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