Local housing market may have hit bottom

The bad news is that southeastern Wisconsin residential real estate market is still slumping. The good news is that the market’s rate of decline is slowing. According to a new Multiple Listings Service Inc. report, home sales in southeastern Wisconsin for July were 13.7 percent behind the region’s 2007 home sales and listings of homes for sale during the month were down 10.6 percent compared with the previous year. Southeastern Wisconsin had 2,023 home sales during July, compared with 2,344 sales during July of 2007.

As the housing market has slumped into a buyers market, fewer homeowners have put their properties up for sale. There were 4,629 homes listed for sale in southeastern Wisconsin during July, down from 5,179 in July of 2007. July was the 12th month in a row that listings for homes in the region have declined.

Milwaukee County had 824 homes sales for the month, down 6.8 percent compared with July of 2007. Waukesha County had 408 sold, down 16.6 percent. Ozaukee County had 103, down 5.5 percent. Washington County had 140, down 20 percent. Racine County had 159, down 22.8 percent. Kenosha County had 174, down 19.4 percent, Walworth County had 113, down 15 percent. Sheboygan County had 102 sales for the month, down 22.7 percent.

Despite the grim numbers, more buyers are showing interest in buying homes, said Mike Ruzicka, president of the Greater Milwaukee Association of Realtors.

"Brokers are reporting that the federal housing bill, plus pent-up demand due to a slower market over the last year are prompting buyers to get back into the market," he said. "In recent weeks, buyers seem to be realizing that attractive interest rates, an ample supply of homes to choose from and flat prices spell a great buying opportunity."

The silver lining for the region’s housing market is that the home sale decline in July was considerably lower than the June decline. In June the region’s home sales were down about 22 percent, compared to June of 2007, a larger drop than the 13.7 percent drop in July.

"It appears the decrease in year-to-year sales is flattening," Ruzicka said. "This is a sign that the subprime crisis, which started last August, and evolved into a much wider credit crunch, seems to be waning as buyers are finding more accessible credit."

The region’s housing market is showing some other early signs of recovery. Milwaukee was the only major metropolitan area in the United States that had a year-over-year increase in the value of its residential real estate, according to a report by New York-based Radar Logic Inc. In its monthly Residential Property Index (RPX) report, Radar Logic says that residential real estate in the Milwaukee area was priced at $123.76 per square foot in May, a 1.1-percent increase compared from May of 2007.

In addition, the number of residential foreclosures in the state and in Milwaukee and Racine counties has fallen since January, according to data from ForeclosuresWI.com. This could be a sign that the residential foreclosure crisis has passed its peak. In January, the state had 2,443 foreclosures. In July, the state had 1,762 foreclosures. Milwaukee County had 616 foreclosures in January and 394 in July. Racine County had 116 foreclosures in January, and 50 in July. July was the first month that foreclosures in Milwaukee County and in Racine County were lower than in the corresponding month in 2007.

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