The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

July 12, 2013

Realtors report strong summer

From staff, wire reports
The News Courier

— Home sales in Athens and Limestone County increased 14.7 percent in June compared to the same period last year, according to a report released this week from the Alabama Center for Real Estate.

The Tuscaloosa-area group also reported sales improved 4 percent compared to the prior month. However, year-to-date through June, closed transactions are at 4.8 percent below last year’s pace.

Wanda Gunter, president of the Athens-Limestone Association of Realtors, said she and other Realtors noticed an increase in sales last month. She credited recent sales to a gradual increase in the mortgage-lending rate. The rate is now in flux between 4 and 4.5 percent.

“(Interest rates) had been as low as 2 percent,” Gunter said. “(The increase) may cause some people to get off the fence (and buy).”

According to ACRE, the Athens-Limestone housing inventory totaled 813 units, an increase of 1.6 percent from June 2012. The group said the June inventory increased by 1.4 percent from the prior month.

Realtor Marie Eubanks said all her listings but one have sold, and added she was in need of new property listings. She described the first six months of 2013 as one of her most productive years in terms of sales.

Home sales typically decline in the late summer and early fall months. However, Eubanks said September could be a positive month because it will mark the end of the federally mandated sequestration cuts that have affected workers at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville.

“A lot of the buyers I have just lost 20 percent of their income, so they won’t buy anything,” Eubanks said.

When asked what types of properties were selling, she said pre-existing homes are selling just as much or more as new construction. She added buyers are “living more within their budget” and find pre-existing homes more affordable. Older buyers, however, are more interested in new construction because of fewer maintenance and repair issues.

The increase in home sales over 2012 echoes a trend in national economic numbers.  The Dow Jones industrial average and Standard & Poor’s 500 surged to all-time highs Thursday. And the yield on the 10-year Treasury note continued to decline as investors bought bonds.

Stocks that benefit most from a continuation of low interest rates, such as homebuilders, notched some of the biggest gains. D.R. Horton rose $1.93, or 9.2 percent, to $22.98 and Lennar Group climbed $2.88, or 8.3 percent, to $37.44.

The housing market has benefited from low interest rates because they help make mortgages cheaper.

“The Bernanke qualifications have taken the interest rate risk off the table and now it’s really about what will earnings say,” said Jonathan Lewis, chief investment officer at Samson Capital Advisors.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.