WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. — Home prices fell but the number of home sales was up in the first three months of 2012, according to a report from Westchester County’s Empire Access Multiple Listing Service.
Properties selling for $1 million or more accounted for 16 percent of total house sales in the first quarter, about two percentage points lower than the past two years. The median sale price of a Westchester single-family home was $505,500, an 8.5 percent drop from last year’s first quarter median of $552,750. This is the lowest county median since 2002.
Condominium and cooperative prices decreased by 3.8 percent and 12.4 percent, respectively.
While single-family house sales in Westchester County increased by 1.4 percent and condominium sales rose by 5 percent, cooperative sales were 3 percent lower than sales from last year. And, two- to four-family house sales were down by 8.8 percent.
First quarter sales equaled an annual rate of 6,690 homes, an increase of 11.5 percent over the last quarter of 2011. Overall, the report says, the trend line is “bending upward.”
“We have been in a flat market period year-over-year,” said Gary Leogrande, operating principle broker for Keller Williams New York Realty and president of the Empire Access Multiple Listing Service.
Prices for homes in Westchester-Putnam County are low, and, in the case of cooperative units — at a median sale price of around $145,000 — affordable for first time buyers.
“Low prices and generationally low interest rates bring affordability to its highest level in about 10 years,” Leogrande said. “Buyers can get more for their dollar.”
There also is a high volume of units on the market, says Leogrande. And there are “more buyers for any given home because those units that are priced right will be sold, and they will bring in multiple interested buyers,” he said.
The supply of properties listed for sale increased from the close of the fourth quarter to the close of the first quarter. This is typical, as sellers and buyers generally anticipate the spring market, the report says. Compared with the first quarter of 2011, Westchester’s 2012 first quarter inventory of 6,649 listed home is .3 percent fewer.
While average interest rates have been moving upwards a few basis points in the past few weeks, mortgage rates remain at record low levels. For example, the rate on a 30-year conventional mortgage has been less than 5 percent since mid-2011. It is currently at about 4.3 percent.
There are currently about 125 foreclosure filings per month, most of which are disposed of through short sales. A short sale takes place when a seller and lender agree to accept less at the closing than is owed on a mortgage.
About 15 foreclosures per month proceed to a judgment and end up as hard-to-market, real estate-owned properties. This high rate of “distressed properties,” says Leogrande, can bring down home prices.
High property taxes, such as those imposed on properties in Westchester County, also have an adverse affect on the market, Leogrande said. “They are not sustainable in the long run.” Westchester County residents pay more in property taxes than a typical resident of any other major American county, according to the Tax Foundation.
Data posted by the Multiple Listing Service generally lags by some three to four months, as properties are listed, marketed, contracted and then scheduled for closing. As the MLS report was released, member Realtors report some market activity that could yield more closings to be included in the second quarter report.
The good news, says Leogrande, is that it is a great time to be in the market for a home in Westchester County because “Prices are down and interest rates are low.”
And while we might be in the midst of a downturned market, says Leogrande, “Smart buyers will see a historic opportunity to purchase a new home in Westchester County.”