Rising consumer confidence should positively affect the housing market

— Real estate agents sold about 20.4 percent fewer Howard County homes between January and April than they did the same period the year before.

There were 253 home sales during those four months. That was 65 fewer sales than 2010, when a federal tax credit caused a rush of home shoppers to make offers.

The median price of homes dipped 3.7 percent to $70,000 from $72,696.

Kathy Owens, principal broker for Coldwell Banker/cfd Realty in Kokomo, said more people have begun looking for homes than they have over the last few months.

Real estate sales tend to pick up during the summer, she said, and consumer confidence seems to be increasing as more people find work and the economy improves overall.

Howard County had 9.3 percent unemployment in April, and the city of Kokomo was at 10.4 percent, according to state estimates released last week.

More people going back to work, on top of stabilizing home values and interest rates often below 5 percent, make for a good time to buy, leaving agents feeling optimistic about the housing market, said Kevin Hardie, a broker for The Hardie Group Real Estate Co.

“I think there’s new people always coming into the market,” he said. “They’re at different points in their lives.”

A surge of home sales last year because of the First-Time Homebuyer Tax Credit inflated numbers. The Indiana Association of Realtors has repeatedly stated comparing this year’s sales figures to last year’s is not an even comparison.

People buying their first homes could receive $8,000 back via tax credits under the program, and repeat buyers could receive $6,500. Sales spiked last summer as the credit wound down, and there has been a lull since.

Amy Pate, executive vice president of the Realtors Association of Central Indiana, said April 2010 was especially busy for real estate agents as home buyers rushed to make an offer on the home before the April 30 deadline.

“I heard stories about Realtors who, last year at this time, would have appointments all day long,” Pate said. “That’s such an anomaly.”

Homes during the tax credit’s end were selling for a median of about $2,700 less than they have through April this year. Sale prices are up about $15,000 from 2009.

Selling costs are also up from 2008, before the recession began, but the total number of homes is down.

There were 319 Howard County homes that sold at a median of $65,000 January through April in 2008. There has since been a 20.7 percent drop in sales and a 7.7 percent increase in the median sale price.

While foreclosures and their accompanying low selling costs continue to push down housing costs, more of the repossessed homes are selling, letting the average value of homes to come back up, Pate said.

• Author Daniel Human – Kokomo Tribune business reporter