CHAMPAIGN — This year has the early markings of a rebound in home sales, according to data from the Champaign County Association of Realtors.
In February, 106 sales were closed, up from 95 a year earlier. Plus, there were 208 pending sales, up from 134 a year earlier, figures from the association's Multiple Listing Service show.
For the first two months of the year, sale closings were running 2.6 percent ahead of the same time last year, and — perhaps more remarkably — pending sales were up nearly 45 percent.
"January figures were a pleasant surprise, but February numbers look even stronger," said Matt Difanis, the association's president.
But Champaign County home prices were only marginally higher than what they were a year ago.
The average sales price of a single-family home in February was $143,721, up less than 1 percent from February 2011.
Meanwhile, the median sales price — the point at which half the sales are higher and half the sales are lower — was $130,000, up less than 3 percent from the previous February.
Difanis said pricing remains stable locally, continuing a trend from 2011. That's not the case in some parts of Illinois, where prices continue to fall, he said.
The statewide median price in January was down 9.3 percent from January 2011.
In the Chicago metropolitan area, the median price was down 11.4 percent. But several downstate counties, including Peoria, McLean, Sangamon and Effingham, showed increases in the median price.
Today's market remains a buyer's market, given that prices are low relative to four years ago, and mortgage rates are at or near record lows.
Difanis said sellers shouldn't assume prices are rebounding.
"While the numbers provide strong evidence that the trend of declining values has leveled off, there is no indication of rebounding pricing yet," he said.
Instead, he said, the increase in buyer activity is "largely fueled by the perception that rolled-back home prices make this the time to buy."
Difanis said "nearly every day" he hears from prospective sellers who are planning to put homes on the market in the next few weeks.
A look at the association's five-year history of residential sales and inventory shows that in terms of units sold, the first two months of this year were the strongest January-February since 2008.
But prices remain considerably lower than they were four years ago.
The annual average sale price was $152,089 in 2008. It dropped slightly in 2009 and 2010, then tumbled to $138,936 in 2011.
It's too early to tell what the annual average price might be this year. Average prices tend to be higher in the summer and lower in the winter, so the January and February averages aren't likely to be representative of the average for the entire year.
The association's Multiple Listing Service covers Champaign, Piatt and Ford counties, along with portions of Douglas and Vermilion counties. The figures for single-family homes include houses, condos, cooperatives and zero-lot-line homes.
According to the association's database of listings, the number of homes listed on the market has tapered off a bit in recent months.
In 2008 and 2009, it was typical for the association to have 1,600 to 1,900 homes listed at the end of a month. But in 2010 and 2011, it was often common for 2,000 to 2,100 to be listed.
For the past five months, the inventory has fallen below 2,000 to the 1,700-to-1,800 range.
This story appeared in print on March 18.