Homes Sales in July Show Gains Prices up Fifth Month in a Row

Existing home sales and prices showed gains in Georgia and the nation in July.

The average sale price in Georgia was $159,838, up about $800 from June, according to the Georgia Association of Realtors. It was the fifth straight month of price gains.

Buyers purchased 7,791 homes in July, up about 450 from the same month last year, but down about 600 from the traditionally strong home-buying month of June.

Nationally, sales increased in July by 2.3 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors, while home prices dropped about $1,000 to $187,300, but that was the second highest average in the past 12 months.

Jack and Carolyn Bara are among July’s arrivals in Georgia. The couple waited four years to sell a home in Bonita Springs, Fla., one of the hard-hit real estate markets, to move to Brookhaven at Lanier Ridge in Forsyth County and be near children and grandchildren.

Bara said they did not get a price for their Florida home that was close to the price it would have fetched six years ago, but he believes he made up for any losses because prices here are also low.

Lawrence Yun, the Realtor association’s chief economist, said housing affordability is driving sales.

“Mortgage interest rates have been at record lows this year while rents have been rising at faster rates. Combined, these factors are helping to unleash a pent-up demand,” he said.

Mark Vitner, senior economist with Wells Fargo Bank, said interest rates and prices are comparatively good in metro Atlanta. Downsides are that income growth is low, as is the supply of homes for sale, and unemployment remains higher than the national average.

“Not until folks feel secure about their jobs” are they going to say, ‘I’m going to buy a house,’ ” Vitner said.

Though the Georgia market is showing signs of stability, it is climbing up from a very low bottom. The average sale price in 2007 was about $220,000, according to the Georgia Association of Realtors, and during the height of the housing market there were about 12,000 sales a month.

Unemployment and underemployment coupled with the drop in home prices from their highs have left many Georgians stuck in foreclosure or underwater on loans, owing more on the mortgage than the home is worth. Those factors keep some from putting homes up for sale and lead to low home availability. The number of houses for sale in Georgia dropped from a high of more than 100,000 in the good years to about 47,000 in July. That is down 31 percent from a year ago.

That has led to competition among buyers who are willing or able to buy.

Bara said homes in Brookhaven at Lanier Ridge were selling quickly and his first choice got snapped up before he and Carolyn could get it. They bought their second choice, the only other home available until other models are finished.

“This was the last one. We jumped on it and moved in,” he said.

Economist Vitner’s long-term predictions for housing are that sales will be stable but vulnerable to economic shocks such as a worsening European crisis, lack of consumer confidence and even the current run-up in gasoline prices.

“Going from here to ‘a whole lot better’ is at least a year away,” he said.


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