April numbers hold hope Wichita housing market gaining steam, say experts

06/12/2014 12:00 AM

06/11/2014 5:33 PM

In a matter of days, the South Central Kansas Multiple Listing Service will release May home sales figures for the Wichita area.

So far, the monthly sales numbers have been unimpressive compared with a year ago:

• In January, one more home was sold than the same month a year ago, according to MLS figures.
• In February, 37 fewer homes were sold than in February 2013.
• In March, area home sales totals were down by 88 compared with the same month last year.
• April saw 10 more homes sold than in April 2013.

Through April, a total of 2,410 homes have sold in the area, a 5 percent decline from the same period in 2013, according to MLS figures.

“I was kind of concerned,” Stan Longhofer, director of the Center for Real Estate at Wichita State University, said. “Are we beginning to see a trend?”

The answer, Longhofer and other real estate officials said this week, is no.

They think the May sales numbers will show that April, and not the first three months of 2014, was the beginning of a trend.

That is important, because the busiest months of the year in home sales are traditionally April through June.

Realtors blamed the slow start to sales on snow and bitterly cold temperatures that lasted into March.

“January, February and part of March were extremely lethargic. All of that I attribute to weather,” said John McKenzie, broker and owner of Coldwell Banker Plaza Real Estate.

The inclement weather, especially snow, caused delays in the construction of new homes, McKenzie said. More importantly, it deterred buyers from going out to look at houses. And people who were considering listing their houses likely put off the process until the weather improved so they could make repairs to their homes.

McKenzie was among a chorus of Realtors in the area and across the state to attribute 2014’s slow start o the weather.

“I think we did have a rough winter,” said Chris Rost, an agent with Coldwell Banker Antrim Piper Winger in Salina and the 2014 Kansas Association of Realtors president. “People’s buying moods when there is snow on the ground is different than when it is a sunny day.”

Statewide, total home sales through April were slightly down: from 2,967 houses sold in the first four months of 2013 to 2,956 in the same period this year.

At one point, Longhofer said he was skeptical of the weather excuse. He said that skepticism began to wear away in April.

Longhofer said one set of data he looks to on a monthly basis – before figures from the multiple listing service are available – are certificates of valuation that come through the Sedgwick County appraiser’s office. The data generally are available before the monthly MLS numbers. A certificate of valuation is done through the appraiser’s office whenever there is a transaction on a piece of land. So the monthly COV numbers include transactions on empty lots as well as houses and other buildings.

“As a practical matter most of those are going to be single-family homes,” he said. “When you track the trend in those, and the total MLS sales, they follow the same pattern.”

Longhofer said he’s seen a big, big bump in COVs in May, which he said is leading his optimism that May home sales in Wichita will move substantially higher.

“The story that was being told about the weather kind of holding things back looks like it was an actual story,” he said. “The April numbers were better than I was expecting. I’m really expecting solid May numbers.”

Regional data from the National Association of Realtors may also provide an indication of the strength of May home sales.

NAR said its Pending Home Sales Index, which is based on home sales contract signings, moved higher for a second consecutive month, and the index showed a 5 percent increase in the Midwest from the month before.

“An uptrend in closed sales is expected, although some months will encounter a modest setback,” NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said in a May 29 news release announcing the pending home sales.

Brokers and agents said they are seeing more business in recent months.

“May was better than April, and I’m going to look for June to be better than May,” McKenzie said of business at Coldwell Banker Plaza, one of the area’s three biggest residential real estate firms.

Bill Graham, broker of Graham Realtors, a small residential real estate firm on the west side, said his firm is up 38 percent this year on home sales.

“I look at the (MLS) numbers, and I see they are flat,” Graham said. “We’re a pretty small office, and for us it’s been an amazing year, so far.”

Contrary to their optimism, Longhofer is not ready to declare a banner year in area home sales.

In fact, his center forecast a rise of 2.5 percent in Wichita home sales this year.

“I think things are getting better, but there are still some headwinds,” Longhofer said. “Certainly we’re not in any high-flying (environment), but that slow, steady, moving ahead, we’re making progress. It’s on that track.”

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