Temperatures are rising. Snow is melting. And homebuyers are creeping out of the woodwork after a long year in hibernation.
For the first time since last January, home sales increased in the Capital Region last month, according to the latest data from the Greater Capital Association of Realtors. Following 12 straight months of declines, closed sales were up 12 percent across the region in February to 488, compared with 437 last February. Pending sales, or the point at which buyer and seller agree to terms of a sale, were up 11 percent from 583 to 650.
The long-awaited surge is likely a mix of pent-up demand and spring fever, experts say. Although 2014 home sales got off to a good start, most of last year was sluggish and disappointing to Realtors both locally and nationwide. But with wages projected to grow and historically low interest rates subject to rise, Realtors say the market is about to heat up again at long last.
“Though interest rates may rise in 2015, they certainly are not predicted to jump,” said GCAR President Cathy Griffin. “New York is poised for positive wage growth and expanded employment will help drive first-time homebuyers into the market as they realize they can own their own home instead of paying rent for about the same or less.”
The median sale price for a home in the Capital Region was $180,000 last month, down 9 percent from $197,760 a year earlier. Prices should creep higher this year, so now might be the time to buy, Realtors say.
Despite a promising start to the market in 2014 and the ensuing sluggishness, local broker Bob Eberle doesn’t think the uptick will be so fleeting this time around.
You can thank Janet Yellen, he said. The Federal Reserve chair continues to hold out on raising interest rates, which financial markets have been anticipating any day now. That suspense could be the push people need to get out and buy, he said.
“I don’t think [the uptick] is going to disappear,” said Eberle, of Weichert Realtors Expert Advisors. “I really think we’ll have a better year because we know rates will creep a bit after staying where they’ve been for five years. That potential rise will help push people off the edge and get them off the sidelines and into the game.”
Of course, spring has a little something to do with it. Showings always taper as winter approaches and pick up again as it retreats, Eberle said. And even though February was brutally cold, potential homebuyers didn’t seem to care.
“We had a pretty rough winter here,” he said. “When it’s as cold as it was for so long and the snowbanks were as high as they were, people start to get antsy. I think it was just pent-up buying anxiety. People are starting to get out there.”
Schenectady County had the area’s largest increase in closed sales last month. Closed sales rose 48 percent from 54 last February to 80 this February. Pending sales were up 4 percent from 170 to 176. Median sale price was down 18 percent from $156,787 to $128,300.
The local uptick could be a result of renewed interest following the state’s decision to locate a casino on the city’s riverfront, Eberle said. But it could also be continued interest in the county’s strong school districts.
“Those who are looking at the city see revitalized buildings being turned into lofts, which are attractive for Millennials who want that downtown nightlife,” he said. “But we also still see a lot of activity in the suburbs. It’s no coincidence that the top school districts are also the top-selling areas for real estate — Niskayuna, North Colonie, South Colonie, Guilderland, Bethlehem.”
Montgomery and Albany counties also saw an uptick in home sales last month. Saratoga and Schoharie counties saw a decrease. Pending sales, indicating future activity, were up across most of the region.
In Albany County, closed sales were up 5 percent from 123 to 129. Pending sales were up 2 percent from 164 to 167. Median sale price was down 7 percent from $210,000 to $194,600.
In Saratoga County, closed sales were down 8 percent from 132 to 122. Pending sales were up 4 percent from 170 to 176. Median sale price was down 9 percent from $258,950 to $235,232.
In Schoharie County, closed sales were down 33 percent from nine to six. Pending sales were up 7 percent from 14 to 15. Median sale price was down 58 percent from $188,000 to $79,500.
In Montgomery County, closed sales were up 38 percent from eight to 11. Pending sales were down 29 percent from 14 to 10. Median sale price was up 34 percent from $63,250 to $84,800.