Real Estate Report: Sale pace slightly ahead of last year

Sales graph

Mortgage rates are at lows for the year

BOONE – The strong summer of real estate sales continued in September, and slightly outpaced last year’s rate.

Since May, local Realtors® have sold an average of 125 listings a month, according to the High Country Multiple Listing Service, which tracks activity in Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties. That’s just ahead of the same span from last year, when an average of 123 were sold.

Year to date, Realtors® have sold 973 homes in the region. That’s a 2.5 percent increase compared to last year through September, when 949 were sold.

Sales are likely being driven by long standing buyer’s market conditions. The median sale price this year – the point at which half of all homes sold above or below – is $184,000. That’s well below last year’s median sale price through nine months, $195,000.

The competitive prices are attracting buyers. Last month there were 139 Realtor®-assisted sales worth $33.33 million, and a median sale price of $195,000. It was the best September for sales since 2007, before the national housing collapse, when 161 homes worth $54.2 sold for a media price of $255,000.

There were also 310 new listings last month, the fewest since March. As of October 19 there were 3,167 listings within the MLS, a near high for the year.

“We are thankful for the slight increase in our market, which is directly related to a vast inventory and decrease in the median sales price,” said Laurie Phillips, executive officer of High Country Association of Realtors®. “The national home sales report reflects a decrease in sales, however, our area is unique and we are cautiously optimistic that the market will continue to stabilize.”

With regard to all property sold in the three-county area, including commercial lots and land, total sales are up 1 percent compared to this time last year. There have been 2,182 properties sold worth $389.36 in 2014, according to the monthly READReport. It also found inventory levels remain at a near all-time high.

Meanwhile, mortgage rates are at lows for the year. According to Freddie Mac, the average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage fell to 3.97 percent as of October 19, well below the average 4.53 percent back in January. The average rate for a 15-year mortgage, which is one of the most opted methods for people who are looking for refinancing, dipped to 3.18 percent from 3.30 percent.

The High Country hasn’t followed the latest national trends. According to the National Association of Realtors®, existing home sales slowed in August, the last month in which data is available. Sales decreased 1.8 percent from July. Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says sales activity remains stronger than earlier in the year, but remains below this time last year.

Locally, Realtor®-assisted sales hit a seven-year high in August, with 170 listings sold. That was a 35 percent increase compared to July. The median sold price remained nearly unchanged though, growing from $187,400 to $187,500.

Realtor sales in August hit seven-year high


BOONE – It’s been almost seven years since local Realtors® sold as many homes as they did in August.

Sell prices were not what they were in 2007. But last month’s sales in the High Country were easily the busiest for the three-county area since the national housing market collapsed in 2008.

There were 168 homes sold by Realtors® last month, according to the Multiple Listing Service, which records sales in Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties. That’s the most activity since October 2007, when 178 homes were sold. Only one other month in that seven-year span surpassed 150 – October 2013 (147 sold).

The two high selling months – October 2007 and August 2014 – exemplify how the local market has changed with regard to housing value. In the former month, total sales were $55.99 million with a median sales price of $230,000.

Last month, total Realtor® sales were $39.02 million, with a median price of $188,500, a decrease of 17 percent compared to October 2007.

For the year, Realtors® have reported a median sales price of $182,500, a 6 percent decline from last year’s $194,500 sales mark through the same eight-month span.

The prices are attracting buyers. Realtors® have sold 836 homes so far this year, slightly outpacing the 818 sold through August of 2013.

There is also plenty of variety. As of September 14, there were 3,255 listings in the High Country MLS, the most at any point this year.

“That’s where a local Realtor® can really help,” said Laurie Phillips, executive officer of High Country Association of Realtors®. “Their knowledge of the local market, experience, and negotiating skills can be a huge benefit to both buyers and sellers.”

The High Country is again mirroring some national trends. After a soft June, sales spiked in July, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). Its Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, to 105.9 in July, and is at its highest level since August 2013 (107.1).

“Interest rates are lower than they were a year ago, price growth continues to moderate and total housing inventory is at its highest level since August 20121,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist . “The increase in the number of new and existing homes for sale is creating less competition and is giving prospective buyers more time to review their options before submitting an offer.”

The 30-year mortgage rate averaged 4.12 percent as of September 12. The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage rate is similarly low, averaging 3.24 percent. According to the Washington Post, Freddie Mac expected the average 30-year rate would rise to 5.1 percent by year’s end.  It has pulled back its projection to 4.3 percent.

Real Estate Report: Sales bounce back in July

After a soft June, local Realtors® were kept busy in July with sales hitting their best mark in nine months. At the same time the number of homes for sale hit a high for the year, while mortgage rates hit a low.

July 2014 sales graphicThere were 125 homes sold worth $30.54 million last month, a 37 percent increase over the 91 homes sold in June and the most sold since 147 sold last October. That’s according to the High Country Multiple Listing Service, which tracks Realtor®-assisted sales in Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties.

The 125 homes sold are on par with July sales the previous two years – 127 homes sold in July 2013 and 125 in July 2012. Prior to then, the best July for sales was in 2008 with 124.

One difference is this year’s longstanding buyers’ market conditions. The median sold price last month – the midway price point of all houses sold – was $189,800, the lowest such price for any July since at least 2007. It’s a 2.7 percent decline from July 2013 (195,000) and down 13.5 percent compared to July 2011 ($219,500).

Coincidentally, Realtor® sales for the first seven months of this year match the sales for the same span in 2013 – 688 listings. Yet the total sales value this year is $154.59 million, compared to $168.51 million the year prior.

Sellers continued to enter the market. There were 3,278 properties listed within the MLS as of August 17, the most for any month this year.

“Having just come back from the National Association of Realtors® Leadership Summit in Chicago, we found the real estate forecast for next year to be very encouraging,” said 2015 High Country Association of Realtors® president Pam Vines. “The High Country Association is looking forward to this uptick in our market.”

All local real estate sales were up for the month compared to last July, according to the READReport, which tracks Realtor® and non-Realtor® land sales in the three-county area. It reported 297 properties sold last month, up 8 percent from the 274 sold last July. The value increased 12 percent, from $45.58 million to $51.22 million.

Boosting buyers’ interest is the state of mortgage rates, which have recently declined. As of August 14 they were at a low for the year; 4.12 percent for a 30-year fixed, and 3.24 for a 15-year fixed. A year ago those rates were slowly increasing. The 30-year fixed rate was at 4.40 percent in July 2013, eventually peaking at 4.57 percent in mid-September.

To put those numbers in perspective, since 1971 the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is 8.52 percent. The current rate is half that, at 4.14 percent.

Nationally there is a slowing of the housing market. The National Association of Realtors® reported earlier this month that total existing-home sales increased 5.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.87 million in the second quarter. That’s 4.5 percent below the 5.10 million pace during the second quarter of 2013.

Real estate market seeing declining activity

Realtor sales by month since June 2012

After four years of incremental sales growth, the High Country real estate market is showing signs of slowing.

Through the first six months of the year, Realtor®-assisted sales are down 3.3 percent compared to the year prior, and down 2 percent compared to the first half of 2012.

Median sold prices – the midway price point of all houses sold – are also declining. They are down 5 percent from the first half of 2013, and 10 percent from that span in 2012.

Those declines are occurring as supply is expanding. There are currently more than 3,240 homes for sale within the High Country Multiple Listing Service, which records Realtor® activity in Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties. That’s a 26 percent increase compared to the 2,571 listings active last August.

These trends are reflected in the latest READReport, which tracks all real estate transactions in the High Country, including land and commercial lots. Total sales declined 4.6 percent year to date. The total value of those sales was down 4 percent.

Buyers are still looking, and there are a lot of opportunities to explore. Interest rates also continue to be favorable to buyers. Rates on the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.15 percent as of July 10, according to Freddie Mac. A year ago, rates averaged 4.51 percent.

“With the current high inventory, our Realtor® association has teamed up with the High Country Host to reach potential buyers interested in coming to our area,” said Laurie Phillips, executive officer of High Country Association of Realtors®. “This campaign will encourage residents from surrounding states to visit the High Country by highlighting our unique natural beauty.”

Realtors® sold 91 homes last month, making it one of the slowest Junes in recent history. Since 2009 an average of 107 homes have been sold in that month, with only the 89 sold in 2011 below this year’s mark. There were 128 homes sold in June 2013.

The median sold price last month was $190,000, the second highest recorded this year. That’s down slightly from last June, when the median sold price was $193,750.

The READReport also reported decreased activity for June. There were 261 sales for the month, compared to 297 a year ago. Total value was down 16 percent, $45.03 million from $53.88 million.

Nationally some analysts are expecting the housing market to slow. Well Fargo released a report July 10 which stated that, despite a strong May, home sales for the year are trailing the pace in 2013. “Even with the recent stronger data, the housing recovery remains well short of where it was expected to be,” the report said.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, speaking to the Senate Banking Committee July 15, said, “We see in the housing market where we had some progress but it now looks like it’s stalled.”

Lawrence Yun, chief economist with the National Association of Realtors®, made similar comments in late June. While noting a surge in Realtor® sales in May, he cautioned, “second-half sales growth won’t be enough to compensate for the sluggish first quarter and will likely fall below last year’s total.”

Fourth of July in the High Country

BOOM!There are a lot of events planned. Here are a few.

The annual parade is Friday morning at 11. Cake and watermelon will be served at noon, followed by a free concert at 1 on the lawn of the Jones House Cultural and Community Center. A fireworks show will take place that evening at Clawson Brunley Park.

Blowing Rock
The annual Fourth parade is Saturday at 9 a.m. Other activities include horeshoes, water balloon toss, and face painting. Fireworks are Saturday evening from the Blowing Rock Country Club. There will be live music throughout the day.

The annual Bethel Blast at Bethel Elementary School begins at 5 and features free food, live music and fireworks.

The Liberty Parade begins at 11 a.m. , Refreshments, festivities and live music afterwards at Walter and Annie Cook Park.

Tweetsie Railroad
Tweetsie Railroad’s parking lot will remain open until 9 p.m. for its annual fireworks show.

Sugar Mountain
Watch the area’s fireworks from Sugar’s 5,300-foot peak. The Summit No. 1 chairlift will run Friday from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m.

Beech Mountain
The roasting of the hog and fireworks display over the Fourth of July weekend has become a Beech Mountain NC tradition that no one wants to break.

Parade at 4 p.m. with hamburgers and hot dogs for sell by the fire department. There is free watermelon for everyone and other goodies are sold for fundraising by the local churches, boy scouts and community groups. Children enjoy games in inflatable play places and an old fashion frog-jumping contest. Live music fills the air and finishes with a street dance at 7:00. At nightfall the firemen put on a fireworks display

Fireworks begin Friday at dusk.

West Jefferson
The annual Christmas in July festival features music, a puppet parade, Civil War reenactments, arts, crafts, children’s games, and festival food Friday and Saturday.

Diary of a local – Having a Blast in Bethel

Bethel Blast fireworksI was expecting the traditional fireworks display, albeit it shorter. A rocket would lift off. You watch it soar. It explodes. Crowd “ahhhhhhs.” Pause. Repeat. Then the big finale. Instead what I got was “BamBamBamBamBamBamBam!!” A continuous loop of shattered rainbows and falling stars. For 10 minutes. At least. Now that’s how you celebrate the Fourth!

The scene was the Bethel Blast, a community Independence Day celebration with little fanfare in one of the more remote areas of Watauga County. It’s 20 minutes from Boone and borders Tennessee. The Blast itself takes place at Bethel Elementary, the smallest of the nine schools in the county. But have no doubt, this is a major event that attracts thousands.

Independence Day in the High County is like a menu in a fine restaurant. So much variety. Each event has its own spice. Would you like the fireworks show and parade in Boone? Or a boat show on Watauga Lake followed by fireworks? Or something at a higher elevation, like fireworks in Banner Elk?

This year we made our first trip to the Blast. We were told there’d be live music, food and, of course, fireworks. After the afternoon rain dispersed, we headed off to holiday parts unknown. Just how big could this Blast be? Short answer – phenomenally big.

The Blast started at 5 and we got there just after six. The school was surrounded by cars parked in imaginative angles. A large tent was in the center of the school field, orbited by an overflow crowd. The music was as fine as the weather. Clear skies with a cool breeze. This was going to be a good night.

We walked with our lawn chairs and joined friends on the field. There were easily close to 2,000 people there. (And that’s down from last year, I was told, due possibly to the earlier rain). Under the picnic shelter were three long tables lined with food: fresh chopped BBQ with slaw and beans. Another tent had about six large tubs full of ice and sodas. All free. That’s right. Free. No charge. Happy Independence Day!

But that’s not the best part. There was also a tent dedicated to desserts. It was potluck style. People brought their best sweets and lined them up for public consumption. My wife donated homemade sweet-kabobs – watermelons slices speared with marshmellows and gummy worms. (They didn’t last long).

Bethel Blast crowdBehind the tent was a family’s dream day at the park. There was an area for kids games, and another for hula hoop contests and sack races. More than one frisbee criss-crossed the scene, and a rousing game of football was off to another side. Teenagers circled the track chatting to friends and trying their best to avoid the pedestrian traffic congestion surrounding the face painting tent. (Again, free).

When the sun began its descent, the crowd began arranging chairs to face the field alongside the school. The fireworks show was set to begin! But first, the National Anthem. No one had to say, “please rise for the playing of our national anthem.” Everyone knew to stand. As soon as “buh-raaaaaave” faded from the speakers the show was on. And by on I mean “BamBamBamBamBam” on.

It was a a glorious assault on the senses. Vin Diesel isn’t this fast and furious. My four-year-old son was sitting in my lap immersed in the works of fire. Halfway through he turned to me and said, “This is so awesome dad. Thanks for bring me here.” That’s right, the fireworks show was so good children were moved to manners. That’s some mighty fine gunpower!

When the show – and finale – finished, there was applause, followed by the normal, “okay, let’s go home” mass migration to vehicles. All was orderly. All was calm. This … was High Country living.

I found out later the Blast is primarily the effort of a church, Bethel Baptist Church. It’s an outreach to the community. Kids are invited to register for Vacation Bible School, and a Bible lesson is offered amongst the many children’s activities. It’s a labor of love, one appreciated and now highly anticipated. And another grand reason I love calling the High Country home.

High Country real estate remains a buyer’s market

Buyers’ market conditions continue to drive High Country real estate sales, and they could extend well into the summer as the number of properties listed surges.

Local Realtors® sold 103 homes worth $24.04 million in May, the second time monthly sales surpassed 100 since November. It was also the second busiest May in the past six years, surpassing all years save 2012, when 107 homes worth $25.3 million were sold.

Median sold price for homes in High CountryAttractive prices may be driving those sales. Last month the median sold price – the price at which half of all properties sold for more than that amount and the other half sold for less – was $172,500, the ninth consecutive month it was $200,000 or less.

Through the first five months of the year, Realtor®-assisted sales have netted a median sold price of $177,500, a 4 percent decline from this time last year ($185,000).

The average sale price – the total of all sales divided by the number of properties sold – is also down; from $237,281 in the first five months of 2013 to $231,364 this year. That’s a decline of 2.5 percent.

Meanwhile more sellers have entered the market. In May there were 568 homes added or renewed within the High County Multiple Listing Service, which tracks Realtor® properties in Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties. That’s the largest one-month addition in at least eight years.

Since February the number of properties listed within the MLS has increased 28 percent, with 3,003 listed as of June 8.

“The High Country is a buzz of activity during the upcoming months. Many visitors enjoying the cooler weather and various festivities would love to own mountain property,” said Laurie Phillips, executive officer of High Country Association of Realtors®. “With extensive inventory and attractive prices, this is a great time to buy.”

Realtor® sales for the first five months of the year are up 3.7 percent. There have been 450 homes sold, compared to 432 this time in 2013.

With regard to overall property sales in the High Country, the stats are flipped: sales are down but the value is up.

According to the READReport, which tracks all listings in the High Country including commercial lots and land, there have been 1,014 sales worth $180.8 million through May of this year. There were 1,039 sales for a combined $180.2 million in that same span last year.

For the month of May alone, there were 247 transactions worth $42.33 million, according to the READReport. That is almost even year over year, with 241 transactions worth $43.1 million last May.

Nationally, the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) announced existing-home sales were up slightly in April, the first increase this year.

“Some growth was inevitable after sub-par housing activity in the first quarter, but improved inventory is expanding choices and sales should generally trend upward from this point,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “Annual home sales, however, due to a sluggish first quarter, will likely be lower than last year.”

The median existing-home price nationwide for all housing types in April was $201,700, a 5.2 percent increase over April 2013.
June opened with a slight increase in mortgage rates, according to mortgage buyer Freddie Mac. The average rate for a 30-year loan as of June 5 was 4.14 percent, up from 4.12% the week prior. The average for the 15-year mortgage climbed to 3.23 percent from 3.21 percent.

According to a recent report in The Boston Globe, many industry analysts expected mortgage rates to have risen to about 5 percent by June. Yet many investors have been moving into bonds, such as US Treasuries, pushing interest rates down.

Real Estate Report: 2014 Realtor sales start at a six-year high

Realtors sales to start year, 2007-2014

BOONE – The start of the new year continues to be busy for local Realtors®, with home sales hitting a six-year high.

There were 163 Realtor®-assisted sales recorded in the first two months of 2014, an increase of 11 percent compared to 2013, and up 36 percent compared to 2012. That’s according to the High Country Multiple Listing Service, which tracks all Realtor® transactions in Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties.

To give the numbers perspective, from 2008 (the start of the Great Recession) to 2013, local Realtors® sold an average of 126 homes during the first two months of the year.  The highwater mark was set in 2008, when 183 homes sold. There were only 82 homes sold in 2010.

Local sales continue to be fueled by buyers’ market conditions. The median sold price so far this year is $171,000. That is 12 percent less than the first two months of 2013 ($195,000), and 25 percent less than the start of 2012 ($227,500).

January and February have historically been the slowest months for local Realtor® sales, primarily due to weather. The sales numbers so far suggest local Realtors® should continue seeing more buyers surveying the market.

“With the weather conditions being what they were the past few months, we are greatly encouraged by the uptick in the Real Estate Market,” said Laurie Phillips, executive officer of High Country Association of Realtors®. “Our Realtors® are working hard to assist those that want to buy or sell.”

Realtors® sold 83 homes for a combined $18.5 million in February, which is consistent with the 81 homes worth $19.46 million sold in January.  The median sold price increased 6 percent month to month, from $165,000 to $174,500.

There were 202 new homes added to the MLS in February. As of early March, there were 2,376 active listings in the High Country area.

Trends reported by the MLS are also seen in the READReport, which tracks all real estate transactions in the High Country, including commercial, lots and land. According to the READReport, there were 182 units sold for a combined $28.5 million last month. That’s an increase over sales recorded in February 2013, when 162 units were sold for $24.72 million.

Though many analysts have been predicting for months a spike in interest rates, they continue to remain at near historic lows. As of March 13, the rate on a 30-year loan was 4.37 percent, a slight increase from 4.28 percent the week prior. The average 15-year rate rose to 3.38 percent from 3.32 percent, according to Freddie Mac.

Those rates are lower than they were in December 2013 (30-year was 4.46 percent; 15-year was 3.48).

Nationally, Realtor®-assisted home sales dropped in January to the lowest level in a year-and-a-half, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). The median existing-home price was $188,900, up 10.7 percent from January 2013.

“Disruptive and prolonged winter weather patterns across the country are impacting a wide range of economic activity, and housing is no exception,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “Some housing activity will be delayed until spring.”

The snowy view from on high in the High Country

viaduct covered in snow

The High Country of North Carolina is well known for its snow. There’s been plenty of it this season, with weather systems periodically blanketing the area in powder. That was especially true in February.

February was the snowiest month of the winter so far at Grandfather Mountain, which recorded more than 13 inches during the mid-month storms.

Staff at the Entrance Gate in Linville measured 10 inches of snow Feb. 13, coupled with another two inches on Feb. 15 and yet another inch the following day. Snow totals were similar at the Nature Museum halfway up the Mountain, where 13.6 inches of snow were recorded throughout the month.

The white stuff sets a tranquil scene, one generally enjoyed only at eye level. That recently changed.

During one snow event in February, a local business called Nelson Aerials let loose a camera-laden drone to show off winter weather from a perspective few have ever encountered. That includes scenes from the campus of Appalachian State and the Blue Ridge Parkway Viaduct.

Real Estate Report: New year starts with continued sales growth

January 2014 sales graphic

The local real estate market started the new year much as it ended the old – home sales continued to increase as prices remained flat.

Realtor®-assisted home sales in January hit a six-year high for the month, according to the High Country Multiple Listing Service, which tracks Realtor® sales in Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties.

The median sold price, meanwhile, was the lowest recorded for any month in almost five years.

There were 74 homes sold worth $18.5 million last month, the busiest January since the first month of 2008 when 93 homes sold worth $30.32 million. Sales for the month were up 16 percent compared to January 2013, and 35 percent compared to January 2012.

Prices continued to be held down. The median sold price for January was $173,500, a 20 percent decline from January 2013 ($220,000). It was also the lowest median sold price for any month since March 2009 ($164,000).

There were 214 new listings added during the month, the second fewest since the end of 2012. At the start of February more than 2,300 homes were on the market in Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties.

In recent years January has become the traditional low watermark for the year’s Realtor® sales. The strong start to 2014 could indicate an especially busy year ahead.

“This is a great time to buy a home in the High Country,” said Sam Taylor, 2014 President of the High Country Association of Realtors®. “Continued low interest rates, along with a high inventory of homes in the local market, have us optimistic that 2014 is going to be an even better year than 2013.”

Local Realtors® are coming off their fourth straight year of growing sales.

They sold 1,299 homes in 2013, a 3 percent increase from 2012, and a 28 percent increase from 2011. In that same time span the annual median sold price declined 10 percent, from $212,000 in 2011 to $190,000 in 2013.

Nationally, existing-home sales were up 9.1 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). That was the strongest performance since 2006. The national median price for the year was $197,100, which was 11.5 percent above the 2012 median of $176,800.

“Existing-home sales have risen nearly 20 percent since 2011, with job growth, record low mortgage interest rates and a large pent-up demand driving the market,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist.

Mortgage rates remain steady. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 4.23 percent during the first week of February, down from 4.32 percent the week before, according to Freddie Mac. It was the fifth consecutive week rates declined.

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