Home sales shot up 22.3 percent in March as increasingly confident buyers rushed to snap up houses in the peak buying season.
The increased activity resulted in a modest price hike, which is one of many indicators in recent months that the Valley’s battered housing market is recovering.
This spring’s buying spree is driven by families who prefer to move this time of year and historically low pricing, said Chris Heagerty, the ARMLS communications director.
“Because the housing was so incredibly affordable, people were just buying them like crazy,” she said.
The ARMLS March figures show improvement across the board.
The inventory of homes for sale continued a long decrease, dropping 7.9 percent to 21,863 units. The March numbers are similar to 2003 and 2004, which Heagerty called “the last normal markets.” More than 56,000 homes were listed in November 2009.
Heagerty said that’s created some unpleasant side effects.
“We’re starting to see our agents complain that there’s not enough inventory,” she said.
That’s especially true of houses priced less than $100,000. Those cheaper homes had dominated the market recently but the supply is running out and leading to more activity in homes above that level.
The tight supply is good news to homeowners who watched values suffer from their high in June 2006. Prices plummeted 59.1 percent when they hit bottom in May 2011, at $108,300.
Prices have come up 19.9 percent since then, to $129,900 in March.
“It’s slow and it’s steady,” Heagerty said. “And I know we’d always like it to bounce back up, but it’s probably healthier that we go slow than we go crazy.”
Heagerty said she doesn’t anticipate the Valley will be hit with the much-feared “shadow inventory” of distressed homes that’s predicted to come across the nation.
She expects the worst of the foreclosure crisis has passed but said several things are slowing the recovery.
A more normal market requires higher employment and more migration to Arizona. Heagerty said migration can only improve when housing prices go up in other markets so homeowners can afford to sell and move here.
“Someone from Connecticut can’t buy here until they can sell their house in Connecticut, so we’re all sort of joined at the hip,” she said.
Other findings from ARMLS:
• The listing service projects the median home price in April will reach $133,000.
• Foreclosures rose slightly after a decline lasting more than a year. March is the third month foreclosures have remained at about 18,000 units, down from a high of 50,568 in November 2009. A normal market would have about 5,000 monthly foreclosures, Heagerty said.
• Distressed sales as a percentage of overall sales fell 4.6 percent. This is the first time the figure has fallen below 50 percent since ARMLS tracked this metric. The percent hit an all-time high of 74.1 percent in September 2010.
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