Sales of single-family homes jump

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Sales of single-family homes in Connecticut jumped 26 percent in April compared to the same month last year, but home prices are still falling, according to a publishing company that tracks the data.

In April, 1,946 single-family homes sold statewide, a 26 percent increase from the 1,550 homes that sold in April 2011, according to The Warren Group, the Boston-based company that publishes The Commercial Record. April marked the fourth straight month that the volume of home sales increased compared to the same month a year earlier, the company said.

April’s sales volume also reached its highest level so far this year, topping the 1,610 sales recorded in March. Year-to-date sales also rose, with a total of 6,104 homes sold through April, up 11 percent from 5,500 through the same point last year, The Warren Group said.

“Low mortgage rates and an improving job market in Connecticut are encouraging buyers to enter the market,” said Timothy Warren Jr., The Warren Group’s CEO. “It looks like the months ahead will continue to be positive as the strong spring and summer market heats up. Typically, June is the biggest month of the year for real estate closings.”

Warren said the data suggest the state’s housing market has begun to recover from its dramatic decline during the Great Recession.

“Sales volume has decreased every year since 2004 — that’s seven straight years of falling sales in single-family homes,” Warren said. “I’d like to think that 2012 will halt that slide. It looks like pent up demand is starting to drive the market.”

Rebecca Zandvliet, a realtor with Coldwell Banker Realty 2000 in Naugatuck, agreed that the market is improving.

“It seems like we’re starting to turn around,” she said. “The number of people aggressively looking for homes is increasing. But there is still a large inventory, so we’re not seeing a big jump in prices.”

In fact, the state continues to see just the opposite. The statewide median price for single-family homes sold in April fell to $226,700, down 5.5 percent from $240,000 a year ago. For the year to date, median sales prices are down nearly 6 percent.

Middlesex and New London were the only counties to see prices increase in April from a year earlier. In New Haven County, prices fell 5.5 percent in April compared to a year earlier, to a median of $195,000, while the median sales price in Litchfield County plunged in April to $180,000, nearly an 18 percent drop.

Part of the problem is that the inventory of homes on the market includes a large number of distressed properties, such as “short-sales, foreclosures, folks getting divorced, or people who have lost their jobs and can’t afford the home anymore.” Zandvliet said. “These are homes that are in less-than-pristine condition. We’re not seeing a lot of really attractive homes on the market now.”

That has left the market to “flippers,” she said, professionals who buy up distressed properties, rehabilitate them and resell at a profit. “There’s some serious money being made in the market right now,” Zandvliet said.

Still, she is also seeing better opportunities for first-time home buyers.

“There is some wonderful government financing available for that first-time home buyer who is willing to do a rehab,” she said. “They can buy a property below market value and still get very affordable interest rates.”

Zandvliet said there are also more renters entering the market because they can now own “for less than they’d pay for a rental.”

Qualifying for a loan is still difficult, but that’s also improving, she said.

“There are a couple of local banks that have fantastic programs for people with good credit,” Zandvliet said. “There are some really attractive programs starting to become available, especially for people with very good credit. We didn’t see that before, but banks are starting to be a little more flexible.”

For condominiums, sales also increased in April, The Warren Group said. The state recorded 506 condo sales in April, a 14 percent increase from the 444 that sold in April 2011. For the year so far, 1,641 condos have been sold, 5 percent more than the 1,562 sold in April 2011 and the highest volume of sales for any month this year, the report said.

Like home prices, median condo sales prices also fell in April. The median price dropped to $150,000, down about 12 percent from $170,000 for April 2011. The year-to-date condo price has also fallen more than 6 percent to $155,250 from $165,950, the report said.