‘How’s business these days?’

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Usually, when someone finds out that I work as a real estate agent, the first question they ask is: “How’s business these days?”

My quick answer is always, “Great!” (whether I’m busy or not, it’s a good answer to give because I enjoy being a Realtor).  However, when I’m asked that question these days,  I answer “Great” because home sales are picking up again. 

After a slow fall and long winter, things are coming to life at real estate offices and open houses across Lincoln. Much of that activity has to do with record low mortgage interest rates and the $8,000 tax credit being offered first-time homebuyers as part of the Obama administration’s economic stimulus plan. 

According to figures from the Midlands Multiple Listing Service (MLS), 196 single family homes priced below $200,000 sold in Lancaster County last month (March, 2009). That’s compared to 144 sales of similarly-priced homes in February, 2009, or an increase of 27 percent. So far, April looks to bring even better numbers.

After the first weekend in March, 50 homes priced under $200,000 went into contract. After the first weekend this month, (April) 60 homes under $200,000 went into contract. And, as long as interest rates don’t make major upward moves, the weather warms, the grass greens and flowers blossom, I expect to see increased activity among homebuyers. 

What I’ve also noticed is well-priced and well-maintained homes are selling quickly. In some cases, these homes attract competing offers from two, even three buyers. This brings some excitement and concern. No one wants to feel as if they are trying to outbid someone else for a house and paying too much. So far, from what I’ve seen and heard, “cooler heads” continue to prevail. No one is going crazy with their offers. But, home sellers who have kept their homes in good condition, and who, with the help of their listing agent, have priced their homes right, are definitely benefitting.

Lincoln is fortunate. Its unemployment rate is about half that of the national average of 8.5 percent. At a time when many states struggle with budget deficits, Nebraska has a budget surplus. In ways big and small, the federal government is also taking action to address the national recession, including that $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers.  Last week, Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Federal Reserve said the Fed has been “dramatically proactive and highly innovative” in attempting to resurrect the credit markets and halt the deep economic recession that started in the United States in December 2007.  To all this I say “Amen.”

Another interesting tidbit: With all the talk of foreclosures, many people are curious to know how many homes are in foreclosure here in Lincoln. Here’s what I can report: Of the 196 homes priced under $200,000 that sold this March, my count shows 34 (or 17 percent) of those were bank-owned properties. Last March, 208 homes priced under $200,000 were sold (according to the MLS). Of those, 30 (or 14 percent) were bank-owned. So there has not been a huge increase in the number of bank-owned homes, at least in that price range.

One interesting find is in the $200,000-to-$400,000 price range. In March, 2008, 43 homes sold in that price range. Of those, only one (2 percent) was bank-owned. Last month, (March, 2009), 31 homes sold in that price range. Three homes (9 percent) were in foreclosure. While the numbers are small, they would seem to indicate that foreclosures are moving into higher price ranges.

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