Real-estate agents unfazed by July dip in home sales

Real-estate agents unfazed by July dip in home sales

CHAMPAIGN — For the first time in eight months, the number of home sales in the Champaign County area has failed to exceed that of the same month a year ago.

But despite the outcome in July, the president of the Champaign County Association of Realtors said he believes the real-estate market will remain strong.

Phil Trautman chalked up the July decline to "a burp or glitch in activity," perhaps caused by people taking extended summer vacations or prepping for school.

"The last few months have had really good activity, and it's hard to keep up good activity continuously," he said.

The decline in units sold was relatively small — 305 homes sold in July, down from 322 in July 2013. But the value of homes sold in July — $52.4 million — actually topped the value of homes sold in July 2013 — $51.7 million.

That's because the average price paid for homes went up. The association said the median home price in July was $148,500, up from $140,175 a year earlier. The median price is the point at which half the homes sold for more than that amount and half sold for less.

For the first seven months of this year, the median price for the Champaign County was $139,900, up 3 percent from the same seven months in 2013.

In another encouraging sign for the market, pending sales — listings that have gone under contract but have yet to close — were up in July. The association reported 280 pending sales, up from 264 a year earlier.

Trautman, the managing broker of Champaign County Realty, said real-estate sales tend to remain strong through October, when the weather starts changing.

"We've seen good activity in the $150,000 to $350,000 range," he said of recent sales.

But Trautman said he has noticed a slower market for rental housing in some parts of the community.

"One thing I am seeing that is very slow are the very low-end houses in the older, northern Champaign neighborhoods," he said, citing examples in the Garden Hills and Dobbin Downs areas.

Some of those houses are reasonably priced, he said, "but they can't seem to get activity."

"There are good investment opportunities for rentals with existing tenants if investors are willing to take non-premium locations," he said.

On the other hand, there appears to be strong demand for condominiums in and around downtown Champaign, Trautman said.

He said he had a prospective condo buyer, but it was difficult to find a one-bedroom condo downtown selling for less than $100,000.

One reason, he theorized, is the popularity of downtown living. Another is that many such properties have been upgraded with granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances, boosting the value of the units.

Trautman said improvements in consumer confidence and the labor market should boost single-family home sales. Stability in mortgage rates should also help, he added.

"Interest rates are remaining more stable than I had anticipated," Trautman said, citing mortgage rates "a hair over 4 percent."

One impediment to sales, though, is coming up with a down payment.

"Having the down payment money is still the biggest hurdle for first-time home buyers who are also paying rent," he said.

For the first seven months of this year, 1,601 homes were sold in the Champaign County area, up 2.6 percent from the 1,561 homes sold in the same months of 2013.

The value of homes sold during the first seven months of 2014 was $258.6 million, up 6.5 percent from the $242.8 million sold during the same period in 2013.

Figures are based on sales reported through the association's Multiple Listing Service, which covers transactions not only in Champaign County, but also in portions of surrounding counties.

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