Home sales blooming

Spring his finally sprung, and local Realtors are springing into high gear.

“When the weather breaks, the phones start ringing. People start looking and list their homes for sale. Once the flowers start popping up, people start looking,” said John Stultz, owner/broker of Stultz Real Estate, Hollidaysburg.

Kathy Chabala and Richard Johnston said spring is the best time to be in the real estate business.

“There are a lot of buyers out there, so Realtors encourage sellers to put their homes on the market in the spring. The buyers are out there. You put the two things together, and you have a lot of activity,” said Chabala, co-owner/broker of ReMax Results Realty Group, Altoona.

“I have been doing this for 40 years, and March, April and May is the best time of the year to sell a home. There is pent-up demand from over the winter. Spring is the best time to sell, early spring,” said Johnston, broker/owner of Howard Hanna Johnston Realty, Altoona.

Robert F. Pennington, owner/ broker of Coldwell Banker Town & Country Real Estate, Altoona, said while spring is a good time to buy, it is not necessarily the best.

“In spring, more people think about putting their homes on the market. That means you have a greater selection. If you buy in the off season, you could negotiate better,” Pennington said.

Winter also can be a good time to sell a home.

“If a seller puts his home on the market, the inventory is lower in the winter so they will face less competition because there are fewer homes on the market. Most people put their homes on the market in the spring, and there is more inventory in the spring,” said Adam Conrad, broker/ owner of Perry Wellington Realty, Hollidaysburg.

Matt Evey, broker/owner of Exit Realty John Hill, Altoona, sees another advantage to listing homes in the cold-weather months. “Buyers that are looking at that time are very motivated. It is a myth you need to wait until spring. The buyers we get in the winter are very serious,” Evey said.

According to the National Association of Realtors, existing home sales increased 0.8 percent in February from January and 10.2 percent above February 2012. February sales were at their highest level since the tax credit period of November 2009.

Local Realtors said they are off to a good start in 2013.

“Our closed sales volume through March of 2013 is up 51 percent over last year. I do see a spike. Sellers are being more realistic in their pricing and feel better about themselves. This will be a better year than last year,” Pennington said.

“We are definitely up in product volume. We were up $3 million over last year from January through March,” Chabala said. “We sold more homes than anyone in Blair County, so I would say it was a good year in 2012, and we believe 2013 will be an even better year.”

Stultz said his sales for the first quarter were up 26 percent from last year. Last year’s sales were up over 2011 by about 20 percent.

“I anticipate another strong year. I am predicting an increase of at least 20 percent over 2012. All of the signs point to an active year in real estate in Blair County,” Stultz said.

Realtors said inventory is down in the county, especially in what they call the popular price range: homes valued at $100,000 to $250,000.

“A good home in that bracket flies off the market,” Conrad said.

“If you are a buyer looking in the $180,000 to $200,000 range, you are not going to have a lot of homes to look at,” Evey said.

Johnston said the market is good if you list your home at a fair price.

“People are looking for homes that are priced fair, in a good neighborhood and are in move-in condition. What are really selling are homes in the older established neighborhoods like Fairview, Llyswen and Garden Heights. They are selling well,” Johnston said. “Shoppers are out there, and they are savvy. If it is priced too high, it won’t sell.”

Scott Strayer, broker/ owner of Strayer and Associates, Altoona, said he had seven offers on a $95,000 home in Hollidaysburg within a 10-day period.

First-time buyers accounted for 30 percent of purchases in February, according to the NAR.

Local real estate agents also are seeing more first-time home buyers.

“They have been renting. Four or five years ago when the market went down, they started to rent. There are a lot of tax advantages to owning a home,” Johnston said.

“I think there is a change in attitude that the economy has stabilized. There is more job security, and interest rates are low. People are thinking it may be good to move from renting and going into the home ownership realm,” Stultz said.

First-time buyers can take advantage of Rural Development Loans, government-insured home loans that allow a buyer to purchase a home with no money down. Those loans, which are available in all of Cambria County except Johnstown and Blair County except Altoona and Hollidaysburg, offer 100 percent financing to qualified buyers and allow for all closing costs to be either paid for by the seller or financed into the loan, Strayer said.

Most local Realtors believe neither the buyer nor the seller has an advantage at this point.

However, Conrad and Johnston believe the edge may go to the seller.

“I would say right now the seller may have an advantage the way the market is. There are low-interest rates in the 3 to 4 percent range. For someone who has been in the business for a long time, they are unheard of rates. It is a good time to buy,” Johnston said.

“Technically, it is a sellers market when inventory is low. Other Realtors will say otherwise,” Conrad said.

Evey said it is a pretty level playing field.

“It is a seller’s market, but if you are a buyer, you can still lock in a great interest rate. In that sense, it is a buyers market, but neither side has a real advantage,” Evey said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.