Real estate indicators signal continued recovery in Mesa County market

Phil Castle, The Business Times: 

Annette Miller likes what she sees in the real estate indicators she’s compiled for the first quarter in Mesa County. As sales increased, property foreclosure activity relented.

“This is exactly what you like to see for a recovering market,” said Miller, senior vice president of Heritage Title Co. in Grand Junction.

Michael Burkhard, a real estate agent with RE/MAX 4000 in Grand Junction and chairman of the Grand Junction Area Realtors Association, said the numbers constitute an “encouraging” start to what he also anticipates will be a year of further recovery.

A shrinking inventory of available homes has limited choices for some buyers while driving up prices. And federal legislation could change the way people qualify for mortgages and the amount of mortgage insurance they’re required to carry, Burkhard said. Still, historically low interest rates will continue to bolster the market.

According to numbers compiled by Miller for March, 276 real estate transactions worth a total of $58.9 million were reported in Mesa County. Compared to March 2012, transactions edged up seven-tenths of a percent and the dollar volume increased 3.9 percent.

The latest numbers bring total real estate transactions in Mesa County during the first quarter of 2013 to 712. The dollar volume of those transactions totalled $144.9 million. Compared to the first quarter of 2012, transactions increased 2.3 percent and the dollar volume climbed 9.1 percent.

Real estate sales have been trending up in Mesa County since 2009, when just 2,737 transactions were recorded. For 2012, 3,444 transactions worth a combined $681.2 million were reported. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Miller said she expects the trend to continue in 2013. “I would say more of the same.”

Even as real estate activity continues to increase in Mesa County, property foreclosure activity has decreased, Miller said. For March, 69 foreclosure filings and 75 foreclosure sales were reported. Compared to the same month last year, filings tumbled 52 percent and sales retreated 13.8 percent.

For the first quarter of 2013, 182 foreclosure filings and 180 foreclosure sales were reported in Mesa County. Compared to the first quarter of 2012, filings dropped 47 percent and sales declined 40.4 percent.

The resale of foreclosed property represented 25.1 percent of all real estate transactions in Mesa County during the first quarter of 2013. During the same span last year, the resale of foreclosed properties constituted 28.7 percent of all transactions.

Since foreclosed properties tend to sell for less than comparable properties on the market, foreclosure activity pulls down real estate prices. But as foreclosure activity declines, so will its effects on prices, Miller said.

Like many other areas of the country, the inventory of homes on the market in Mesa County has dropped, Burkhard said.

The diminishing supply has increased demand, particularly for homes priced under $200,000, he said. Homes that are priced competitively and ready for new owners to move in often attract multiple offers and sell quickly, he added.

Burkhard said he’s concerned about the potential effects of proposed federal legislation that could change mortgage qualifications as well as the size of downpayments and the length of time mortgage insurance is required.

For that reason, he said he’s urging people seriously considering buying a home to act before legislation is enacted.

Overall, though, comparably low prices and historically low interest rates continue to create an attractive market for buyers in Mesa County, Burkhard said.