March 3, 2013
Housing Market Shows Signs of Rebounding (MetroWest Daily News)
By Brian Benson

Deborah Filer is looking for a larger home with more land, and with the housing market showing signs of rebounding, now may be the perfect time to upgrade.

Filer currently lives in a Hopedale home she owns with her sister, but her sister has moved out and Filer and her husband feel it is time to live on their own, she said.

Filer hopes to buy a home in Uxbridge, where the 46-year-old corporate communications worker said lots are larger and homes bigger than the 1,800-square-foot house she currently lives in on Dutcher Street. Once she has a new home secured, the family plans to put the Hopedale house on the market.

"It seems like prices are starting to increase and interest rates are still low," she said. "Where prices are increasing, we want to get in before they go even higher."

And Filer is not alone. The Massachusetts Association of Realtors reported recently that January single-family home sales were up 13.7 percent from that time last year, marking the 19th straight month of year-over-year increases.

"We can say this is definitely a trend," said Kimberly Allard-Moccia, president of the Waltham-based association. "Buyers are continuing to take advantage of the market."

The surge is fueled in part by low interest rates and prices that, although rising, remain reasonable, she said.

The Warren Group, which measures real estate activity slightly differently, reported single-family home sales in Massachusetts rose more than 10 percent to 2,680, the highest January sales volume since 2007 when there were 2,953 transactions.

The median sale price of single-family homes in the Bay State last month grew 6.8 percent from January 2012, rising from $260,000 to $277,750, according to The Warren Group. The Realtor group reported a similar percentage increase.

Both groups reported increases in condo sales while average condo sale prices stayed the same or dropped slightly.

In MetroWest and the Milford area, single-family home sales jumped about 22 percent last month from January 2012, according to The Warren Group data.

Susan McDonough at William Raveis Real Estate in Wellesley and Natick, said that area is "hot, hot, hot. ...We're seeing multiple offers, on occasion 50 to 75 people at an open house. When a house just comes on the market, if it's well-priced and in good condition, it's probably sold almost instantly."

Real estate agents, though, identified a couple potential challenges for the housing market this year including limited inventory, the effects of federal sequestration and a plan to eliminate the capital gains tax exclusion in Gov. Deval Patrick's state budget proposal.

McDonough, president of the Greater Boston Association of Realtors, said inventory for single-family homes last month in Greater Boston was down 42 percent from January 2012 and condo inventory was down about 52 percent.

"There's a shortage of quality inventory and relatively high demand on the buyer side," said Steven Greenberg owner of Re/MAX Oak Realty in Ashland."There's just not enough good product out there, so that's causing folks to come in at ask or above asking price, driving up prices a little bit."

Greenberg said he expects there will be more properties available as the market continues to turn around, but he worries sellers may price homes for more than they are worth because of the current high demand and limited supply.

John Miller, of Keller Williams Realty in Westborough, said some buyers are motivated by fear that low interest rates and prices may not last.

"We have increased buyer activity," Miller said. "Buyers who are in the market have been on the fence for literally months and some of them years."

Miller said there are some foreclosure and short sales on the market, helping with inventory levels and making it harder for prices to rise.

Miller said consumer confidence is also up and he expects positive trends to continue in 2013.

Malcolm Hollensteiner, director of retail sales for TD Bank, said he recently attended the New England Realtors Conference and spoke with several central Massachusetts agents who are upbeat.

With fixed rates for a 30-year mortgage hovering in the mid-3 percent range, adjustable rates below 3 percent and home prices lower than they were five or six years ago, it may be cheaper for people to manage monthly mortgage payments than rent, Hollensteiner said.

"There's positive momentum for the housing market," he said. Owning a home "is becoming an attractive opportunity for a lot of U.S citizens."

Limited inventory is also prompting builders to look into projects when "12 months or 18 months ago builders weren't even thinking of building," Hollensteiner said.

Josh Lioce, of Lioce Properties in Mendon, said the local market is mostly balanced, though slightly edging toward a seller's side.

"(Properties in) very good locations will be in multiple offer situations," Lioce said. That was something rarely seen two to five years ago, he said.

Homes between $250,000 and $350,000 are very attractive while properties under $250,000 have been active for a while, he said.

Lioce said he is glad to see gradual improvements instead of the large swing seen several years ago.

"It's a slow, comfortable, controlled increase," he said. "We want to have controlled, slow growth."

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