National home sales in December were more than 15 percent higher than a year ago, which is in stark contrast to Wichita, where sales dipped well below December 2008.
Unit sales were 17.1 percent higher than a year ago nationally and 19.2 percent higher in the Midwest, according to the monthly market report from Real Trends, a Colorado-based industry analyst. Sales in Wichita, however, dropped about 15 percent.
The national sales increases surprised Wichita State University economist Stan Longhofer, but Weigand residential general manager Gary Walker said the sales disparity is likely to continue through 2010.
"I'd say our numbers are driven almost entirely by the tax credit whipsaw, and I'd be very surprised when the National Association of Retailers release their numbers on Monday if the national picture isn't a more muted picture of the same situation," Longhofer said.
That "whipsaw" — the Dec. 1 deadline to close purchases under the original $8,000 first-time homebuyer credit — sent Wichita sales plummeting to 560, down 87 units from December 2008.
Walker ties the shifting trends to Wichita's historic lag behind national economic trends.
"I think the reality for Wichita is that our market slowdown hit late," Walker said, "so our recovery is going to be a lot later, too.
"I really think that we're looking at another year very similar to 2009. The good news is that our ups and downs aren't ever as extreme as the coastal areas."
Walker said the psychology of the economic downturn hit Wichita first, followed by the stream of aviation layoffs.
"Now, the reality of our job situation is affecting us," Walker said. "With that said, I still expect April, May and June to be good months for us because of the tax incentive.
The extended $8,000 credit, and the new $6,500 deal for some qualifying current homeowners, will be key to how the Wichita market fares in the first six months of 2010, Longhofer and Walker said.
"Certainly, the job situation puts a damper on us here," he said. "Over the first couple of quarters of this year, it's not expected that we'll have any job growth. We'll bottom out and then improve.
"That being said, I do think that most people whose jobs are in jeopardy either know it or the worst has already happened. A lot of the uncertainty has resolved itself. I don't expect a big increase in home sales locally over the coming months, but I don't expect a big decline, either."
Once June passes, the Wichita market's fate "depends entirely on the local job situation," Walker said.