Mesa County real estate activity trending upward

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Annette Miller

The latest numbers extend what’s been  a trend of growth in real estate activity in Mesa County.

It’s a trend Annette Miller fully expects to continue next year. “I’d like to see more of the same in 2013.”

Miller, senior vice president of Heritage Title Co. in Grand Junction and a long-time observer of the local real estate market, said the number of transactions  and dollar volume of those transactions increased in October compared to the same month last year.

The latest numbers build on gains in sales and dollar volume between 2011 and 2012.

Robert Bray, president of Bray Real Estate in Grand Junction, described 2012 as a “bumpy road along the bottom,” but one that’s leading to improving conditions. “2013 could see much better results if we can get the economy a little more healthy,” Bray added.

Robert Bray

Miller said 311 real estate transactions worth a combined $52.8 million were reported in Mesa County in October. Compared to the same month last year, transactions increased  20 percent. Dollar volume increased almost 11 percent even though there were no large transactions worth more than $1 million in October. At this time last year, two transactions worth a total of $6.6 million were reported.

Through the first 10 months of 2012, a total of 2,884 real estate transactions worth a collective $555.7 million were reported in Mesa County, Miller said. Those numbers both constitute a 12.5 percent increase over the same span in 2011.

At the current pace, 2012 remains on track for 3,460 sales worth a total of nearly $667 million. If realized, those numbers would be the highest since 2008, albeit about half of those in 2007.

Bray said increased real estate activity is mostly a function of good buys at lower prices, although historically low interest rates on mortgages have helped as well.

Bray said activity typically slows on a seasonal basis between mid-October and mid-March, although there could be a “bump” after the uncertainty associated with a presidential election dissipates.

As for 2013, both Miller and Bray said they expect real estate activity to continue to increase, although some factors could affect the market.

Foreclosure activity will continue to play a role as so-called distressed properties continue to come on the market, they said.

Miller said 99 foreclosure filings and 119 sales were reported in Mesa County in October. Compared to the same month last year, filings decreased nearly 7 percent, but sales increased almost 23 percent.

Through the first 10 months of 2012, 1,099 foreclosure filings and 735 sales were reported in Mesa County, Miller said. Compared to the same span last year, filings increased almost 10 percent and sales decreased about 9 percent.

Since filings occur at the beginning of the foreclosure process, they can offer a leading indicator of subsequent sales.

Sales of foreclosed properties as a proportion of overall real estate transactions have declined over the past year, Miller said.

In October, sales of foreclosed properties accounted for slightly more over 23 percent of all transactions. During the same month last year, foreclosure sales constituted nearly 35 percent of transactions, Miller said.

In a good real estate market, the proportion of foreclosed property sales to overall transactions remains below 10 percent, she said.

An increase in interest rates also could affect the market, particularly in terms of refinancing activity, Miller said. However, Bray said he expects interest rates to stay low for another year.

The biggest factor of all affecting the real estate market remains labor conditions, Bray said. While the unemployment rate in Mesa County has dropped seven-tenths of a point over the past year, the latest rate of 8.1 percent remains too high to promote a more robust rebound in real estate, he said.

As economic and labor conditions improve, though, so will the real estate market, he added.