By JOSH FUNK
AP Business Writer
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Home sales in the Midwest jumped nearly 20 percent over last year as buyers continued to go after expiring federal tax credits.
The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that 97,000 existing homes sold in March across the 11-state region. And the median sales price was flat at $139,300.
The Midwest trends were reflected nationally. Compared with March last year, U.S. home sales rose 20 percent, without adjusting for seasonal factors. The median price was also flat, but higher, at $170,700.
The looming April 30 tax-credit deadline is motivating first-time buyers and keeping the market moving, according to realtors.
“The tax credit really has a lot to do with it,” said Peggy Isakson, president of the Fargo Moorhead Area Association of Realtors.
Home sales increased in all but one of the 12 major Midwestern cities tracked in the Associated Press-Re/Max Monthly Housing Report.
Most of the Midwest cities recorded annual sales increases between 4 percent and 15 percent in March, but Fargo led the region with a 76 percent increase. The only decline came in Cleveland, but it was so small that sales there were essentially even with March last year.
The AP-Re/Max report tallies sales by all real estate agents in the metropolitan statistical area, regardless of company affiliation. The report covers Chicago, Cleveland, Des Moines, Detroit, Fargo, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Omaha, St. Louis and Wichita.
Here are some of the highlights:
—Soaring sales: Fargo’s sales increase may be a bit misleading because widespread flooding in the area last year disrupted the market, said Isakson. That helped make this year’s numbers look even better.
But Greg Baldwin said first-time homebuyers also drove much of the sales increase in Fargo, and the area’s economy remains fairly strong.
“We’re seeing a really strong home-buying market here,” said Baldwin, an agent with Realty Executives North Plains.
Baldwin said a number of Fargo homebuilders have offered incentives this spring to encourage people to buy, including one guarantee that the deal would close in time to meet the tax credit deadline.
—Improving prices: All but two of the Midwest cities saw an annual increase in median prices. Des Moines and Chicago were the only cities where home prices declined in March. Des Moines’s 6 percent drop was the largest in the region.
Cleveland and Detroit again recorded the biggest increases in median home sale prices. Cleveland’s median home price increased 63 percent to $116,000, and Detroit’s median home price jumped 73 percent to $67,400.
But those overall numbers may be misleading. In both those cities, there are vast differences between the heart of the city and the suburbs. And some homeowners have pulled their homes off the market because they didn’t want to compete with foreclosures and other financially distressed sellers.
“There’s no good reason for someone who doesn’t have to sell to sell right now,” said John Newman with Hall and Hunter Realtors in Detroit.
The number of homes on the market in Detroit were 32 percent below year-ago levels. Sales in the metro area were up about 5 percent.
And Newman is encouraging to see more buyers in the market today and more of them are interested in buying a home as a place to live, not as an investment.
“I see it coming around and stabilizing,” he said.