High Country Association of Realtors March Report: Interest Rates Spur Activity

Published Monday, April 20, 2015 at 10:01 am

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Interest rates continued falling in March, spurring a busy month of real estate activity in the High Country. Local inventory grew, while nationally the sale of vacation homes hit a 12-year high.

There were 106 homes worth $28.8 million purchased in March, according to the High Country Multiple Listing Service, which tracks realtor-assisted sales in Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties.

The total sales were two fewer than March 2014, but the median sold price for the month – the midpoint at which half of all homes sold – was $200,000. That’s a 5.7 percent increase from the median price recorded last March, $189,250.

That marked the fourth month in the past six the median sold price has been $200,000 or greater, a streak last recorded in Spring 2012.

Inventory also grew in March, with realtors adding more than 200 listings. As of April 12 there were 2,458 homes on the market.

Interest rates continued attracting buyers. The 30-year fixed rate fell a half-percent from early March to April, from 4.38 percent to 3.66 percent as of April 9, according to lending giant Freddie Mac.

In that same time span the 15-year fixed rate declined from 3.03 percent to 2.93 percent.

The low rates combined with a long-standing buyers’ market in the local area are hopeful signs for increased real estate activity as the traditional busy season begins.

“It’s hard to believe that 3 to 4 percent mortgage rates are still with us” said Pam Vines, president of the High Country Association of Realtors. “It’s really quite remarkable.”

The READReport, which tracks all real estate transactions in the three-county area, reported 234 properties sold in March well above the 206 sold in March 2014. Yet the cumulative sale price was down slightly, from $40.3 million to $40.06 million.

The average sale price for all property transactions in March was $171,179 according to the READReport, a 13 percent decrease from the average in March 2014, when it was $195,667.

Year to date, property sales are up 12 percent, from 563 in the first three months of 2014 to 628 this year.

With regard to national trends, the High Country market could be impacted by a spike in demand for vacation homes.

According to the 2015 Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), there were 1.13 million vacation-home sold last year, the most since the statistic began being tracked in 2003.

It was a 57 percent increase compared to 2013, when 717,000 vacation homes were sold.

The survey also reported decreases in investment-home sales (down 7.4 percent) and owner-occupied purchases (down 12.8 percent) in that same time span.

“Affluent households have greatly benefited from strong growth in the stock market in recent years, and the steady rise in home prices has likely given them reassurance that real estate remains an attractive long-term investment,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “Furthermore, last year’s impressive increase also reflects long-term growth in the numbers of baby boomers moving closer to retirement and buying second homes to convert into their primary home in a few years.”

The median sales price of both vacation and investment homes declined in 2014. The median vacation home price was $150,000, down 11.1 percent from $168,700 in 2013. The median investment-home sales price was $125,000, down 3.8 percent from $130,000 a year ago.

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