Positive signs

Prices mostly up, total sales up for real estate locally

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Jenelle Klontz, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker, leads potential home buyer Jeremy Meltebarger, left, and his family through a home Thursday in Post Falls.

The local real estate market continues to show signs of recovery, realtors say.

Inventory and foreclosure sales are down, while prices and total sales are up.

"With the exception of our crazy boom years of 2004 and 2005, our residential inventory is Kootenai County is at its lowest level with barely over 2,000 listings available for sale," said Jennifer Smock, managing broker for Windermere Coeur d'Alene Realty. "This is a good sign that our market and its buyers are absorbing some of the excess inventory and feeling more confidence in our local market."

There were 942 single-family residential sales in Kootenai County through the end of July, according to the latest stats available from the Coeur d'Alene Multiple Listing Service. That is a 3 percent increase compared to the same period last year.

The number of sales in the Rathdrum/Twin Lakes/Hauser area increased 14 percent to 74, Hayden rose 13 percent to 185 and Coeur d'Alene/Dalton 4 percent to 388.

Sales in Post Falls decreased 4 percent to 270.

The average price for a single-family home in Kootenai County rose 5 percent to $179,554 and the median price also rose 5 percent to $154,888.

"The median price is definitely way better than I expected," said Joel Elgee of Coldwell Banker Schneidmiller Realty, adding that a year ago he believed the price would continue to be flat or show a 1 to 2 percent increase. "Price is always the last part of the market to move, so that's a good thing."

June of this year marked the first time in six years that the median price increased over the previous year.

"The two ingredients that created that were an increase in demand and a decrease in supply," Elgee said.

The average price for Coeur d'Alene and Dalton homes on the market through July was $184,475, up 9 percent from $168,830 a year ago. The average price also increased 6 percent in Hayden from $203,447 to $215,110 and 2 percent in Post Falls from $152,022 to $154,745. The price decreased 6 percent in Rathdrum/Twin Lakes/Hauser from $148,986 to $140,116.

Smock said the sales price increases are a trend that some of other markets in the region don't share.

Nationally, home prices jumped 3.8 percent in the 12 months ending in July. They increased 1.3 percent just from June to July, marking the fifth straight increase in both the monthly and year-over-year indexes.

Homes have been averaging 135 days on the market this year compared to 130 days last year at this time.

Elgee said it's more of a buyer's market statistically speaking, but it also depends on the segment.

"With bank-owned properties, there may be multiple offers, so that creates a seller's market," he said. "But, with higher-priced homes, it's more of a buyer's market (due to less offers)."

Fewer foreclosure sales this year are another positive sign of the local market, Elgee said.

There were 309 such sales through July, making up 25 percent of the total sales. Last year there were 401 foreclosure sales, which made up 35 percent of the total sales.

"The decline indicates a recovery in the market," Elgee said. "Foreclosures have depressed pricing."

While foreclosures are still a big factor in the market and there are still more than realtors would like to see, they're not as dominant as they once were.

"They get a lot of attention, but they're not selling the best, especially if they haven't been well cared for," Elgee said.

There also continues to be stories of personal struggle with the market on the foreclosure front.

Carole Winn, a single 71-year-old woman who lived in Kootenai County and moved to New York this summer, said a fall last year led to a downward spiral for her.

Injuries sidelined her from selling real estate for six months and, as a result, she fell behind on her house payments. She tried to get assistance through various agencies and a loan modification through her government-run lender, but was denied because she was told she didn't qualify.

She wasn't able to sell the home, so it went into foreclosure.

"With a loan modification, I could've kept the home at a lower rate and they probably could have gotten more money for it in the end," she said.

The home was appraised at $165,000, but was ultimately sold for $153,500.

"It is what it is, but I put a lot into the home physically, mentally and financially, but I had to walk away from it because I couldn't get any help due to my special circumstances (from the injuries)," she said.

Winn and Elgee said they have heard similar homeowner stories recently.

Elgee said there has been an increase in investor action, which has helped the market turn.

"Many investors believe they've seen the bottom (and continue to buy)," Elgee said. "The numbers are still working for investors."

Interest rates remain low with a conventional 30-year fixed loan at 3.75 percent.

"Overall, our market is experiencing a positive shift that will hopefully continue throughout this year and into the next," Smock said.

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