Mesa County estate sales end five-year downward trend

Phil Castle, The Business Times

With a month still left to go in 2011, real estate sales in Mesa County already have exceeded 2010 to finally end a five-year downward trend.

The dollar volume of sales continues to lag behind last year, however, as prices remain lower. Although sales of bank- and government-owned properties constitute nearly a third of all transactions, foreclosure activity has slowed.

Robert Bray
Robert Bray

Considering all the numbers, Robert Bray said he’s cautiously optimistic real estate sales activity will continue to increase as buyers take advantage of lower prices and mortgage interest rates. Nonetheless, the president of Bray Real Estate in Grand Junction remains worried the upcoming presidential election could constitute a distraction that affects home purchases. Ultimately, an improving real estate market remains tied to an improving labor market, Bray said.

According to statistics reported by Annette Miller, senior vice president of Heritage Title Co. in Grand Junction, 231 real estate sales worth a total of $35 million were reported in Mesa County in November.

Compared to November 2010, sales were up 13.8 percent and the combined sales volume was up 6.4 percent.

The latest numbers bring real estate statistics through the first 11 months of 2011 to 2,799 sales worth a combined $489.8 million.

Real estate sales for 2011 already have eclipsed the 2,518 real estate sales reported in 2010 as well as the 2,737 sales reported in 2009. Moreover, the year-over-year gain for 2011 ends what had been a downward trend in real estates sales going back to 2006. Of course, 2011 sales through November remain less than 39 percent of the nearly 7,200 sales reported in the peak year of 2005.

The year-to-date dollar volume for real estate sales for 2011 remains more than 7 percent below the same span in 2010 in part because of lower prices.

For November, sales statistics included 69 real estate owned (REO) properties, Miller reported. That figure constitutes nearly a third of all transactions. Such properties tend to pull down prices because they typically sell for less than comparable properties on the market.

At the same time, though, foreclosure activity continues to slow in Mesa County.

Annette Miller
Annette Miller

Miller said 107 property foreclosure filings and 43 sales were reported in Mesa County in November. Filings fell 16.4 percent compared to the same month last year, while there was one more sale.

Filings constitute the beginning of the foreclosure process, while sales come at the end. Because of the time in between, both a filing and sale for a given property don’t occur in the same month.

Through November 2011, a total of 1,107 foreclosure filings were reported for Mesa County, a decline of nearly 24 percent from the same span in 2010.

Overall, Miller said she was pleased with the latest numbers not only for their implications for the real estate market, but also the economy. “Tracking real estate is really a good way to take the pulse of the economy.”

Bray said he expects real estate activity to continue to increase through the first half of 2012, although prices likely will remain soft. Activity remains strongest, he said, for homes priced below $300,000.

Low prices and interest rates have created a buyer’s market, Bray said, with opportunities that have attracted some investors — although not to the extent of markets elsewhere in the country where prices have dipped far lower.

Bray said he’s concerned, though that the presidential election in 2012 could constitute a distraction that curbs real estate activity, particularly as the race draws closer to election day.

Ultimately, the housing market remains dependent on the labor market and will stabilize as more people find employment and jobless rates drop, Bray said.

In October, the latest month for which estimates are available, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County held steady at 8.5 percent. The latest jobless rate has dropped a full point over the past year, but remains double the prerecession rates reported in 2008.