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Miles Noennig: Home sales prices have been dragged down by foreclosures.
Miles Noennig: Home sales prices have been dragged down by foreclosures.

Home sale data send conflicting signals

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Just by looking at the numbers, the Springfield housing market seems to be a mixed bag.

According to information provided by the Greater Springfield Board of Realtors, the average home sale price for the first quarter of 2009 was $133,000, up 2.3 percent from the fourth quarter of 2008 in the board's coverage area, which comprises Greene, Christian and Webster counties.

Home sales, however, are down 11 percent during the same period.

GSBOR Board President Miles Noennig said he doesn't put as much stock in the total number of sales; winter months, he said, typically perform worse than other parts of the year.

"We're getting into the time of year where sales traditionally increase. It may not increase to the level we're used to seeing, but it is definitely picking up," Noennig said. "There seems to be a lot more activity - buyers are looking - and there's some cautious optimism that we've hit the bottom and things are starting to turn around."

Seasonal upswing

While local Realtors have been making similarly positive comments for several months, veteran Realtor Jack Rhoads of Murney Associates, Realtors, is more than cautiously optimistic.

"Spring always brings a surge. It's cabin fever - the sun comes out and people get out to open houses and see sale signs in neighborhoods they've always wanted to live in," he said. "I don't know if you can put a percentage on it, but we always see this surge during good weather."

Rhoads said that buyers are finally becoming aware of historically low interest rates, combined with the first-time homebuyers credit made available in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that offers up to $8,000 for those purchasing their first home. lists mortgage rates in the Springfield area at around 5 percent for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.

Donna McCallister, president of All Credit Mortgage in Ozark, said that, while interest rates are good, borrower qualifications are key.

"Rates aren't the problem - it's getting the paper to the closing table," she said. "Lenders are asking for more documentation, the guidelines are tighter, and only certain people fit in the box. Normally it would take 30 days to get something closed; now it's taking 40 or 50 days."

She added that the combination of low interest rates and harsh restrictions make her job more difficult, because many of the potential buyers who want to take advantage of the rates are being turned down by lending institutions.

"I've been doing this for 13 years, and I've never been as frustrated as I am today," McCallister said.

Would-be homeowners also may be enticed by sellers who are more desperate to move their properties off the for-sale list. The average length of time homes spend on the market is up in three of Springfield's five public high school boundary areas, and all five are seeing homes stay on the market for more than two months on average.

Breaking down the numbers

Even the home sale prices, according to Noennig, could be stronger. He noted that the average price has been brought down significantly by numerous foreclosures, which nearly always sell for less than their market value.

"The sale of distressed property is a significant portion of total sales, and the average sale price on those properties is significantly lower than on a normal transaction," Noennig said. "We're seeing average sale prices continue to go down from prior year because of that."

Year-over-year average sale prices in all five Springfield high school districts were down in the first quarter of this year, to varying degrees.

Home prices within Central High School's boundaries are nearly unchanged at $62,200, while the areas served by three other high schools - Glendale, Kickapoo and Parkview - saw double-digit-percentage decreases in home prices.

Homes in the Glendale district dipped below $200,000, while Kickapoo is down to $176,000 , and Parkview is at $106,000, as of the first quarter.

Prices within the Hillcrest High School attendance area also dropped - to below $100,000 - but the 7 percent decline was less severe.

Rhoads, however, thinks that the overall decline in home prices is finally beginning to entice potential buyers.

"There are people ready to sell their house and buy something new," Rhoads said.

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