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March 01. 2014 12:35AM

Higher prices, lower sales leave mixed message

CONCORD - Prices for single-family residential units in New Hampshire shot up 14 percent in January from a year earlier, but sales dropped 13 percent, according to the New Hampshire Association of Realtors.

The $220,000 median price in January was the highest seen in a New Hampshire January since 2009 - and $27,500 higher than January 2013.

But the 696 closed sales in January represented "a substantial drop" from the 801 in January 2013, but still was the second best opening month since 2006, according to the association.

January sales volume, meaning the total dollars exchanged in the month's transactions, rose more than 9 percent.

"Everything seems to be coming back into balance," said President Alan DeStefano, a 15-year veteran of the real estate industry. "We've had a strong couple of years of increased sales activity, and in a healthy market you would expect that to put upward pressure on prices while the inventory comes down. That's what we're seeing."

In Hillsborough County, which includes Manchester and Nashua, the median sales price was $221,000 in January compared with $206,103 a year earlier. January sales volume totaled $43.1 million, or down 3.8 percent. There were 168 closed sales in January, 14.3 percent fewer than in January 2013. Pending sales totaled 170 in January, down 9.6 percent. Properties stayed six more days on the market, 97 in January vs. 91 in January 2013.

DeStefano cautioned, however, that a particular median price increase in a region or even statewide is not an indication that every property has gained at that level.

"Every market is different, and every individual case is different," he said. "Some may have increased more than the median change, some less."

Locally, only Grafton and Rockingham counties saw increased residential unit sales in January, while all but Cheshire, Coos and Strafford counties witnessed median price increases. Belknap County saw the most significant increase in median price, from $146,000 in January 2013 to $215,000 in 2014.

DeStefano said the supply of housing inventory has dropped to the point of being a statistically balanced market. Months' supply is a statistic used to measure the number of months it would take to sell off the current inventory at the current pace of sale and if no other homes were to come on the market.

Six to nine months' supply is the range typically cited as being a balanced market, while a larger number indicates a buyers' market and lower numbers a sellers' market. In recent years, the number has consistently been in the high teens, and as much as 20 in 2009.

January ended with 7.3 months' supply of inventory.

"It seems like I've been saying this a lot lately, that if you're a seller who has been hesitant, now may be the time to act," DeStefano said. "There's less selling competition than there's been in awhile."

In fact, new listings in January dropped by nearly 9 percent from the same period a year ago.

Condominium sales in New Hampshire, meanwhile, saw a similar trend in terms of sales and price, with unit sales down 5 percent but median price ahead by 17 percent, to $165,000, in January. Sales volume saw a 4 percent increase.

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