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Mecklenburg home sales off to swift spring start

By Deon Roberts
deroberts@charlotteobserver.com

Mecklenburg County’s spring homebuying season is off to a brisk start.

Cal Mitchener, who photographs Charlotte homes for real estate brokers trying to sell them, said his business has increased so much since the start of the year “I can barely keep up.”

Kina Marshall, who in late February put her home in the Stonehaven neighborhood up for sale, was shocked that it was already under contract within only five days.

Helen Penter, an Allen Tate Co. broker who sells homes primarily in south Charlotte, submitted a listing on a recent Friday afternoon. By the next day, the house had racked up six offers.

Some brokers say they’re seeing multiple offers more often than they did during the downturn. They say some buyers have been willing to pay more than the price at which a home is listed, a scenario unheard of a year ago.

Prices are going up, brokers say, as inventory drops. Inventory is so low in some areas that sellers, after they get rid of their homes, are opting to rent because they can’t find a home they like amid the limited selection.

Gus Faucher, senior economist with PNC Financial Services Group, said a rising stock market and the concern that mortgage rates might rise are among factors motivating potential buyers. But home prices are still attractive, he said.

He said an improving job market – in Charlotte and nationally – is also driving more people to consider homeownership or to buy a nicer home.

Mecklenburg County’s unemployment rate rose to 9.7 percent in January from 9.2 percent in December, according to nonseasonally adjusted figures released this month by the N.C. Department of Commerce. The county’s rate was unchanged from January 2012.

To be sure, bidding wars aren’t taking place countywide, and in some pockets of the county there’s more supply than in others.

But statistics show the county’s market for existing home sales is off to a stronger start in 2013 than last year.

The Charlotte Regional Realtor Association – which tracks sales of existing, not new, homes – reports that from February 2012 to this past February:

• Inventory – measured by the time it would take to sell all the existing homes on the market – fell from 7.9 months of supply to 3.2.

• The amount of the original list price sellers received rose from 91.4 percent to 94.2 percent.

• The average number of days a home sat on the market until selling fell from 116 to 97.

Sales and prices were also up in February versus the same month a year ago, according to the association.

Recovery not complete

Despite the positive trends, the county’s housing market is lagging prerecession levels. Average prices were down about 7 percent in February compared with the same month in 2007.

And some people continue to have trouble selling their homes.

In July, Bob Hubbard and his wife, Nancy Milling, put up for sale the town house they own in The Lakes at Raintree neighborhood in south Charlotte.

Eight months later, the house, which they’ve been trying to sell without the aid of a broker, might finally move. Hubbard said he’s accepted an offer, but there’s a catch: The buyers, a couple also trying to sell their own Charlotte home, will purchase the Hubbardses’ town house only if their own home sells.

Hubbard said he’s contemplating turning the house over to a real estate agent.

Although appraisers, brokers and others in the county’s real estate industry are busy, Eric Locher, president of the Realtors association, said he won’t go as far as to call the county’s market a frenzy.

“It’s just a nice, good turnaround,” he said, adding that activity is differing by neighborhood.

But he points out that brokers in parts of the county are reporting things they weren’t a year ago.

“Last year we saw very, very few multiple offers,” he said.

This year, he said, “you’re seeing multiple people going for the same property. That’s very new.”

Susan Johnson, a broker with Keller Williams in the Lake Norman area, said that at this time last year, homes would not have received multiple offers and it was “extremely rare” a year ago for buyers to be willing to pay full price.

“It’s going basically from a buyer’s market to a seller’s market,” she said.

Not every seller is receiving offers above list price.

Marshall, who’s under contract to sell her Stonehaven home, which she listed with Showcase Realty, said the buyer has offered “a couple thousand” dollars below list price.

Still, it was remarkable, she said, that a buyer came along after just five days, because some homes in her neighborhood have sat on the market for more than a year.

She added that some of those homes have recently sold – all within a couple of months.

In and around southeast Charlotte, the first three months of 2013 have Allen Tate broker Carl Richmond optimistic. “It’s a frenzy in some areas,” he said.

In a normal January, he’ll list one to two houses. But this January, he said, he listed five – and all five have sold.

Three of the five sold in three days or less and had multiple offers, he said.

“I’ve never had that much activity in January before. That just kind of shows the pent-up demand from buyers.”

Roberts: 704-358-5248 Twitter: @DeonERoberts
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