Home sales in Champaign County weaker than last year
CHAMPAIGN — Home sales in the Champaign County area are lagging behind last year, both in terms of units sold and in dollar sales volume, the president of the Champaign County Association of Realtors said.
Matt Difanis said that as of Tuesday, the number of homes sold year-to-date was running 3 percent behind this time last year. Meanwhile, sales volume in dollars was down about 4 percent.
But the average and median sale prices of homes "have held relatively steady," said Difanis, a co-owner of Re/Max Realty Associates in Champaign.
The average sales price this year — $152,757 — was down less than 1 percent from this time a year ago.
The median sales price — the point at which half the prices are higher and half are lower — was $136,000, also down less than 1 percent.
Earlier this year, figures reported by the association's Multiple Listing Service indicated unit sales were running ahead of last year, even though dollar sales volume was down.
But Difanis said those figures included some out-of-area homes reported by local agents. When out-of-area homes were excluded, unit sales were slightly behind last year.
Overall, "the local market is holding quite steady," he said. "The inventory (of homes for sale) is down compared to where it was last year."
But the shrinkage in inventory isn't so much the result of strengthening sales as it is the result of sellers pulling properties off the market and putting tenants in homes that were previously owner-occupied.
Because many of the temporarily rented homes will eventually come back onto the market, Difanis predicted "we're going to see relatively high inventories going forward for quite a while."
Difanis said 1,779 homes are listed with the Multiple Listing Service that covers Champaign County and parts of Piatt and Douglas counties.
That's down from about 2,100 listings this summer, but up significantly from the 900 or so available during the boom years of 2005 and 2006, he said.
Champaign County is seeing "modest downward pressure on prices," and Difanis said he expects that to last a few more months, given high inventories and low demand for homes in winter.
Sellers need to price their homes realistically if they want to sell them quickly — and for the most part, they're doing that, he said.
"Once a seller gets the property priced to where it actually generates an offer, we typically see that the final sales price is within a few percentage points of the list price," Difanis said.
On average, the sales price in Champaign County this year has been 95 percent of the listing price. That's slightly below 2010, when the average sales price was 96 percent of the listing price.
Low interest rates make home buying easier, and Difanis said he's somewhat surprised more people haven't taken advantage of them.
It's "alarming to see continued soft demand when borrowed money is as cheap as we may see it the rest of our lives," he said.
Difanis said financing is more available than is commonly thought.
"A lot of buyers mistakenly think they can't get financing. Credit is tighter, but ... some financing vehicles are still readily available," he said.
Federal Housing Administration loans require only a 3.5 percent down payment, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development loans — for low- and moderate-income people living outside urban areas — have zero down payments.
"Both those programs require good credit, not spectacular credit," he said.
On Wednesday, the Illinois Association of Realtors announced that November home sales in Illinois were up 14.2 percent from November 2010, in terms of units sold.
"Little by little, there is some accumulating evidence that there may be some measure of recovery in the housing market," said Geoffrey Hewings, director of the University of Illinois' Regional Economic Applications Laboratory, in a statement issued by the association.
However, Hewings said two factors — high unemployment rates and the stock of distressed properties — are working against the recovery.