Wisconsin home sales continue to soar, but prices still in decline

Wisconsin home sales continued to grow at a robust pace in November, extending a strong growth trend that started in July last year.

Existing home sales rose 24.8 percent last month, compared with the same month in 2011, according to the most recent monthly report by the Wisconsin Realtors Association (WRA).
After increasing for eight straight months, median prices dropped in November, slipping 2.3 percent to $129,900 compared to November 2011.

“With 17 straight months of healthy growth in statewide home sales, there’s no doubt that the state housing market has seen a real bounce this year,” said Renny Diedrich, chairman of the WRA board of directors.

Diedrich pointed out that the year-to-date sales are up 21.2 percent, which is by far the highest levels seen since 2007, just before the recession officially began.

“As we move into the slower part of the selling season, it’s encouraging to see such a strong growth in sales, and all regions grew by double-digit margins” Diedrich said.

The Central region saw growth of 50 percent in November 2012 compared with November 2011, and sales were up 38.2 percent in the West region over that period. The Southeast region was up 24.5 percent, and both the North and Northeast regions grew at just over 20 percent in November.

The South Central region experienced growth of 18.3 percent over the period.

“The decline in the median price in November follows a relatively strong uptick in October, so it’s difficult to say precisely what caused this volatility, but year-to-date, median prices are still up,” said WRA president and chief executive officer Michael Theo.

Through the first 11 months of 2012, median prices are 0.7 percent higher than the first 11 months of 2011. “This is a pretty good track record given the sluggish economic growth and weak job creation in the national economy this year,” said Theo.

The state inventory picture continues to improve with available homes dipping below 50,000 units for the first time since the WRA began tracking inventory levels at the end of 2009. This represents available supply of 9.5 months in November, which is a significant improvement over the 14.3 months of supply this time last year.

“Given the strong growth in sales over the last year and a half, we’ve been expecting inventories to come down, and it’s encouraging to see strong improvements in some of our larger markets,” said Theo.

Of the 24 counties classified as belonging to metropolitan areas, 15 had inventory levels below the statewide average.

“In fact, Milwaukee County, which is the biggest county in the state, has just under six months of inventory, which is at the level considered by economists to be balanced,” said Theo.

Still, housing affordability in the state remains high due in part to 30-year fixed-rate mortgages that are under 4 percent. The Wisconsin Housing Affordability Index, which measures the percentage of a median-priced home that a buyer with the median family income can afford, jumped to 270 in November, compared to 242 in November 2011. Assuming that the economy manages to stay out of recession, the statewide inventory should continue to stabilize, which will in turn lead to price appreciation.

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