Wisconsin REALTORS Association: Home sales up for eighth straight month

For More Information Contact:

Michael Theo, WRA President and CEO, 608-241-2047, [email protected]
or David Clark, Economist, C3 Statistical Solutions and Professor of Economics, Marquette University, 414-803-6537, [email protected]

MADISON, WI — February home sales rose for the eighth straight month, with existing home sales up 15.6 percent from February 2011, according to the latest monthly report by the Wisconsin REALTORS® Association (WRA). Home prices were down in February, but by a modest 1.7 percent, to $115,000 compared to one year ago.

This increasing sales trend began last summer and has continued at a healthy pace throughout the fall and winter. “It’s very encouraging to see sustained growth in home sales,” said Rob Keefe, Chairman of the WRA board of directors. He noted that sales over the last five months have seen growth rates in double digits without any distortion from federal incentive programs. He also noted that 30-year fixed-rate mortgages have been under 4 percent for the last four months, and the Federal Reserve has continued to keep short-term interest rates low to help nurture the recovery and avoid a double-dip recession. “We’re hopeful that the combination of moderating prices and low mortgage rates will carry this momentum into the next six months, which are the prime homebuying season in Wisconsin,” said Keefe.

Existing home sales grew in every region of the state in February, with most increasing over 10 percent compared to the same month last year. The strongest growth was seen in the Southeast region, which increased 22.6 percent over the period. Home sales in the Northeast and West regions grew between 16.3 percent and 17.2 percent, and the South Central region was up 12.9 percent over the past year. More modest growth was seen in the Central region, which grew 6.3 percent; and the North region increased slightly, up 1.8 percent, over the period. Many of the rural counties in these two regions have experienced higher unemployment rates than the more urbanized counties in the state, which dampened home sales.

The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate continues to move in the right direction, with the January rate at 6.9 percent, which is more than a percent lower than the national rate that stands at 8.3 percent. This is the first time the Wisconsin unemployment rate has been below 7 percent since December 2008. The improvement is due to a small uptick in jobs in the state in January but also in part from a slight reduction in the labor force as well. “Over the past year, Wisconsin job growth has been flat,” said WRA President and CEO, Michael Theo. He noted that the national economic picture continues to be somewhat mixed, but there has been some recent good news. “National job growth in February showed some hopeful signs of life, with payroll employment up 227,000 for the month,” said Theo.

Total unsold inventory of homes has fallen significantly over the past eight months. In July 2011, there were nearly 72,000 unsold homes in the state, and that figure dropped to just fewer than 53,000 last month. New listings of homes were also down in February relative to last year. “Combining strong sales with fewer listings should continue to liquidate inventory, which is important if prices are to bottom out,” said Theo. The Wisconsin Housing Affordability Index, which shows what percentage of a median-priced home that a buyer with the median family income can afford, increased to 283 from a revised 271 in January. “With affordability so high, this is a great time for buyers to work with a local REALTOR® to identify the best market opportunities for them,” said Theo.

The Wisconsin REALTORS® Association is one of the largest trade associations in the state, representing over 13,400 real estate brokers, sales people and affiliates statewide. All county figures on sales volume and median prices are compiled by the Wisconsin REALTORS® Association and are not seasonally adjusted. Median prices are only computed if the county recorded at least 10 home sales in the quarter. All data collected by Wisconsin REALTORS® Association are subject to revision if more complete data become available. Beginning in 2010, all historical sales volume and median price data at the county level have been re-benchmarked using the Techmark system that accesses MLS data directly and in real time. The Wisconsin Housing Affordability Index is updated monthly with the most recent data on median housing prices, mortgage rates, and estimated median family income data for Wisconsin.