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October 20. 2012 8:33PM

NH home prices on the rise, up 2.3 percent

It’s the sign John Rice has been waiting for.

The median sale price of homes in New Hampshire ticked upward last month, compared with the previous September — not everywhere, and only by a modest 2.3 percent statewide.

But it was enough for Rice, a Rye Realtor who is president of the New Hampshire Association of Realtors, to see a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel for the state’s struggling housing market.

“That’s huge,” he said.

It was the first time the median sale price increased statewide since the end of 2010. And it reflects what he and his colleagues have seen in many local markets within the state, Rice said. “We were seeing some, in many instances, full-price properties coming on the market, and there being multiple offers for more than full price,” he said.

To him, that means the market has hit bottom and is beginning to move back upward, Rice said. He’s seen a “very positive attitude” out there among buyers as well.

“I think people feel that real estate, if it’s not fully depreciated now, it’s just about fully depreciated, and interest rates are at all-time lows,” he said. “So it’s not just somebody making up a rosy story here. The fact of the matter is, there’s never been a better time to buy real estate if you have a good, constant income stream.”

Gary Coffin is president of Mortgage Bankers and Brokers Association of New Hampshire, whose members include mortgage bankers, brokers, title companies and appraisers. “Everyone seems to be busy,” he said.

“Things are picking up, and it’s not just refinance closings that are picking up; the purchase business has picked up as well,” said Coffin, who is president of Horizon Settlement Services in Concord.

Coffin said credit seems to be more available for buyers. “It’s not as easy as it was prior to 2007... but I think it’s a lot easier than it was a year ago. There’s plenty of money available.

“The lenders are just making certain that people qualify and have the ability to pay,” he said. “They look more closely at the borrower’s situation to make sure they do have the assets and the income to pay back the loan.”

And Coffin said buyers don’t have to have 20 percent to put down in New Hampshire. “Right now there’s quite a bit of money available for first-time home buyers, or buyers who have a smaller amount of money,” he said, noting there are loan programs from New Hampshire Housing, FHA, VA and USDA Rural Housing that offer attractive financing for new home buyers.

Rice agreed that lenders have tightened their qualification guidelines, but he said buyers who have good credit and work history can qualify for mortgage loans.

And he said, “I don’t think most people in this business want people who can’t afford a house to be applying for a loan and buying one. It all leads to the thing that started everything sliding down in the first place.”

Rice noted investors also are coming back into the New Hampshire real estate market, another indicator that “it’s a good time to buy.”

September sales figures continued a monthly upward trend that began last January, according to NHAR, with single family homes up 7.5 percent statewide year over year. And when compared year-to-date (through Sept. 30), sales were up 19 percent in 2012 over 2011.

While the number of homes selling in Cheshire and Sullivan counties dropped last month compared with the previous September, the numbers increased in the remaining eight counties.

September sales were up 33 percent year over year in Coos County, where the median price also rose 7.3 percent, from $61,500 to $66,000. In Belknap County, sales were up nearly 26 percent, and the median price rose 19 percent from $159,500 to $190,000.

In Hillsborough County, sales were up 7 percent in September from the previous year, although the median sales price dropped slightly, from $208,500 to $206,500.

In Rockingham County, sales were up 8.7 percent year over year and the median price went up 5 percent, from $239,000 to $251,000.

Statewide, 9,569 single-family homes have sold in the first nine months of 2012, compared with just 8,032 in that period the previous year.

Condominium sales also saw an increase last month, up 22 percent statewide over the previous September. A total of 2,264 condos have sold statewide in the first nine months of this year, compared with 1,923 for that period in 2011.

But the median price for condos has continued to drop, from $160,000 in September 2011 to $152,000 last month.

The continued increase in home sales, combined with the uptick in median sale price, is the good news his industry has been awaiting, Rice said.

“I can tell you it’s just created a better atmosphere out there across the board, both buyers and sellers, and real estate agents who have been struggling to practice their trade in a market where things got worse and worse and worse for six years,” he said. “To have things turn around, it’s just wonderful.”

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Shawne Wickham may be reached at swickham@unionleader.com.



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