Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 9, 2013

SALISBURY — Despite statistics showing that Rowan County home sales are off to a slow start in 2013, real estate agents say they’re busier than last year and more optimistic.
“I’m surprised the stats are not showing much better numbers,” said Jerry Davis, president of the Salisbury/Rowan Association of Realtors. “I know that things have definitely picked up.”
The overall volume of homes sold in the first three months of 2013 was $9.6 million, down from $10.8 million in the first quarter of 2012. While real estate agents have sold 81 homes so far this year, up slightly from 75 sold in early 2012, the average selling price fell from $144,483 to $118,749.
Homes are sitting on the market for about the same amount of time — 183 days in early 2012, compared to 187 days now.
The discrepancy between statistics and real-life experience could be due to pending closings, Davis said.
Terlin Johnson, a real estate agent with Home Realty and Mortgage, said the statistics also could be misleading because some local agents have dropped their membership in the Salisbury-Rowan Multiple Listing Service and only pay dues to Charlotte’s service.
This has been the best yearly start he’s seen in four or five years, said Johnson, who’s been in real estate for 10 years.
“We’ve got buyers who have been able to get loans,” he said. “People being able to get mortgages is absolutely the ticket.”
Nationally, home sales and prices are at a seven-year high, showing the housing market is on its way to recovery, according to the National Association of Realtors. In February, the average home price was just below $174,000, a 12 percent increase from 2012.
Debbie Miller of Rowan Realty said she’s had more sales so far this year than early last year, a sign the economy is improving and consumer confidence is growing.
“Typically the first quarter is really slow, and we have definitely seen an increase over last year,” said Miller, a 16-year veteran of the industry. “This is a very good time to buy. Prices are still low, and interest rates are excellent.”
Local brokers report the return of a phenomenon they haven’t seen since the downturn — multiple offers on the same house.
“We are seeing that for the first time in a few years,” said Victor Wallace, president of Wallace Realty.
But it’s still a buyer’s market, Wallace said. Few properties are selling at asking price, although there is less movement off the asking price because sellers are pricing their homes closer to what buyers are willing to pay, he said.
At Wallace Realty, early 2013 has been a virtual copy of early 2012, he said.
“In general, the first quarter felt slow, compared to the velocity we had built up in the final two quarters of 2012,” Wallace said.
However, three months is too short to get an accurate sense of this year’s market, he said. Overall, his firm expects a better year than last, as long as interest rates stay low and the economy continues to improve, Wallace said.
The firm’s development company, Belle Realty, is building its first two spec houses in five years in a Granite Quarry development called Granite Commons. The homes, under construction by Built Green of Salisbury, will be rated for energy efficiency and constructed of eco-friendly building materials, Wallace said.
They are among only a handful of new homes going up in Rowan County.
“That is what’s hurting the market,” Davis said. “Seven or eight years ago, a buyer had 30 or 40 brand new homes to choose from. Now you might have one.”
Davis said he needs more listings in the $150,000 to $230,000 range. Twice recently, he’s had buyers try to make offers on a home within hours of the seller signing another contract.
While it’s still a buyer’s market, things are starting to change, Davis said.
“It’s still pretty balanced, but it’s starting to swing,” he said.
Johnson said sellers have become more realistic in their pricing, and about 25 percent will sell their house for an amount close to the list price. While agents are seeing fewer short sales, foreclosures still make up a good portion of the local market, he said.
Home Realty is doing business “all over the board,” from people paying cash for a $30,000 house to those buying a $325,000 house, Johnson said.
“I think we are OK this year,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a good year.”

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.