Mesa County real estate activity outpaces last year

Phil Castle, The Business Times: 

Annette Miller continues to observe what she considers “baby steps” toward recovery in the Mesa County real estate market. But she worries property foreclosures could trip up the progress.

Annette Miller

An uptick in the latest monthly unemployment rate adds another element of uncertainty, said Miller, senior vice president at Heritage Title Co. in Grand Junction. “There’s mixed signals out there for sure.”

Robert Bray, president of Bray Real Estate in Grand Junction said the latest market trends make him “cautiously optimistic.”

Increasing sales, particularly for homes prices at the lower end of the price range, and historically low interest rates bolster the market and eventually could lead to higher prices. But foreclosure activity also influences the market and pricing, Bray said.

Miller said 293 transactions worth a combined $59.2 million were reported in Mesa County in April. Compared to the same month last year, transactions rose more than 5 percent and the dollar volume jumped nearly 16 percent.

Miller attributed the gain in dollar volume in part to three transactions worth a total of almost $4.2 million.

Meanwhile, the proportion of April transactions involving foreclosed properties dropped, she said. There were such 58 sales, about 20 percent of the total for the month. That contrasts with 95 sales of foreclosed properties during the same month last year or 34 percent of total sales.

Foreclosed properties typically sell for less than other, comparable properties on the market. So a decrease in foreclosure sales plays a role in an increase in dollar volume, she said.

“That’s an interesting sign,” Miller said, but added she’s not certain whether the decrease means fewer properties are moving through the foreclosure process or more properties have yet to hit the market.

Through the first four months of 2012, 989 real estate transactions worth a collective $192 million were reported in Mesa County. The number of sales outpaced the same span last year by 10.4 percent, while the dollar volume increased 8 percent.

Bray said it’s still a buyer’s market in Mesa County, but activity has increased. A lot of that activity has been concentrated on homes priced under $150,000. With less inventory and more demand, sellers in some instances are receiving multiple offers and bidding has ensued, he said.

There’s also been movement in other price ranges, including housing selling for $300,000 to $400,000, Bray said.

Bray expects the upward trend in real estate sales to continue. “I think it could be a summer season that beats last summer.”

He attributes the increase in part to historically low interest rates that could slip below 4 percent. “The fact that it’s just a great time to buy is driving activity.”

While housing prices have yet to increase compared to last year, Bray said that trend could change by the end of the year. The rebound depends, though, on property foreclosure activity.

Miller said 96 foreclosure filings and 79 foreclosure sales were reported in Mesa County in April, both numbers that were lower than the same month last year.

Through the first four months of 2012, however, foreclosure filings have increased to 440, a more than 13 percent increase over the same span last year. Foreclosure sales dropped to 309, a 7.2 percent decease from last year.

The ability of people to purchase homes also depends on jobs, Miller said. The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County edged up two-tenths of a point to 9.5 percent in March, the latest month for which estimates are available. Over the past year, though, local payrolls have increased almost 500 even as the number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work has dropped nearly 900.