The number of distressed homes listed for sale in Ahwatukee was 52 percent lower on Feb. 1 when compared to the year earlier, based on data from the Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service.

That’s good news for both distress and non-distressed homeowners wanting to sell their properties. A large number of distressed home listings is commonly blamed for holding prices down on all homes.

That supply of distress homes that began the year could explain why the median sale prices in the 85044, 85045 and 85048 ZIP codes, a good proxy for the Ahwatukee market, did not rise quite as fast as Maricopa County’s median sale price, which rose 33 percent from the quarter ending 2011 to the one ending 2012 (see sidebar for a breakdown).

Of the 179 distressed homes listed for sale last year, 159 where considered pre-foreclosure listings, that is where the homeowner is trying to sell their property before it’s foreclosed on. The other 20 homes were banked owned properties listed for sale.

By Feb. 1 of this year, only 86 active listing were in distress. Pre-foreclosure listings had decreased to 67 and bank owned listings were at 19.

Ahwatukee’s total active listings, the inventory of both distress and non-distress homes, has also been decreasing. Over the last two years realtor estate agents have seen a 50 percent decrease in total active listings, from 543 homes available for sale on Feb. 1, 2011 to 274 active listed homes two years later.

“Even the high-end market is starting to catch-up,” said Bonny Holland, a luxury home real estate agent at Keller Williams Realty in Ahwatukee.

Holland’s managing broker, Mike Salyer, likes to looks at the “turnover rate.” It’s calculated by dividing the number of active listings by the previous month’s sales, and provides an indicator of the dynamics between buyer and seller.

Ahwatukee’s turnover rate was 2.8 as of Feb. 8, which Salyer said indicates a balanced market that favors sellers slightly — a figure between 3 and 4 equals a balanced market, and anything over 4 is considered a buyer’s market.

Compared to other areas in the East Valley, Ahwatukee’s turnover rate is right in the middle. Sun Lakes’ rate was the highest at 5.2. Gilbert’s rate was the lowest at 2.3 (see graph for East Valley turnover rates).

Salyer added that turnover rates do vary within a particular market segment, and that at this time the luxury market in Ahwatukee, homes listed at $600,000 and up, is still a buyer’s market.

“I think the market in Ahwatukee is pretty positive,” said Michael Orr at the Center for Real Estate Theory and Practice at Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business. It’s close to centers of employment so it’s always going to be in demand and for the immediate future, “I see nothing but good news for Ahwatukee.”

But given the price increases over the last 15 months, there is a danger that speculators could come back into the market, Orr said.

And if a growing number of investors begin to “think that they can’t lose,” things could get overheated again, he said.

“People should buy homes to live in them. Or if they’re going to become landlords, they should ... run it like a proper business, not expect to make money after appreciation, because that could work both ways,” Orr said.

• Christopher Leone is a graduate student from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is interning this semester for the AFN.

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