First quarter real estate numbers reflect sawtooth trend

Joe Reed compares trends in the Mesa County real estate market to the teeth of a saw — up and down from month to month compared to last year, but not too much either way.

As long as uncertainty over the long-term direction of the market — as well as economic and labor conditions — persists, the zigzag pattern likely could continue. “I think we’re still in for something of an unsure year,” said Reed, a real estate agent and spokesman for the Grand Junction Area Realtor Association.

Numbers for the first three months of the year bear out that assessment. Real estate sales in Mesa County and the dollar volume of those sales were up in January compared to the same month last year. Real estate activity slowed in February, but then rebounded in March to nearly match last year.

For the first quarter of 2011, transactions were up nearly 5 percent compared to the same quarter of 2010. But the dollar volume of sales in the first quarter of 2011 was down more than 11 percent from the same span last year, according to statistics reported by Annette Miller, senior vice president of Heritage Title Co. in Grand Junction.

Miller agreed with Reed that uncertainty persists in the market, especially in terms of the effects of transactions involving banked-owned properties and so-called short sales in which owners accept lower prices to sell their properties. “I think everyone is very curious about 2011,” Miller said.

For March alone, 225 real estate sales worth a combined $50.6 million were reported in Mesa County Miller says. Both numbers constitute big increases over February, but remain slightly below March 2010.

For the first quarter of 2011, 569 transactions worth a total of $120.3 million were reported in Mesa County, Miller said. That compares to 543 transactions worth a total of $135.4 million in the first quarter of 2010.

While the dollar volume of real estate activity has dropped, Miller said she considers it a good sign the number of sales increased slightly.

A growing proportion of real estate transactions involving bank-owned properties and short sales continue to drive down prices, Miller said.

And there’s still a large inventory of properties that have yet to move through a foreclosure pipeline, she added.

Still, Miller expects the economy to improve, especially as the 2012 presidential election draws near, and that will bode well for the real estate market.

Reed said an increasing inventory and lower prices in the Mesa County market have bolstered sales to first-time homebuyers as well as some investors.

While sales involving bank-owned properties and short sales have contributed to generally lower prices, such transactions aren’t affecting sales in every price range, Reed said.

And there are other encouraging signs in the market, Reed added. Consumer confidence in real estate has improved even as lending standards have loosened a bit and long-term mortgage interest rates remain historically low.

Moreover, some real estate agents have reported increases in listings, showings and even closings, Reed said. “I’ve talked to a lot of offices and I’ve talked to a lot of brokers, and their numbers are very good.”