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Realtors: Local housing market needs an aviation rebound

National home resales surged last month to the highest level in nearly three years, reflecting a federal tax credit program credited with pulling the housing market back from the worst downturn since the Great Depression.

Buyers were racing to complete their sales before a tax credit for first-time buyers was scheduled to expire Nov. 30. Last month, however, Congress extended and expanded the credit to ensure the housing market could sustain its recovery.

Meanwhile, Wichita sales in November were up more than 40 percent over November 2008, at 801 units.

The national news is good, but any psychological boost from the numbers isn't enough for the Wichita housing market, local brokers said.

"It's certainly good news that we've got good numbers coming forth after a protracted downturn," said Dave Neal, president and chief executive of Dave Neal and Associates Realtors.

"But real estate is a local market, and to the extent that good national news impacts our local market, the numbers aren't relevant as a major impact.

"We still need to get to building and selling airplanes. That's reality."

Steve Wilbur, a Realtor with United Country Theurer Realty in Wichita, agreed that aviation is the key.

"We're still hurting in our middle- and upper-middle-income sectors," he said.

Larry Underhill, with Realty Executives of Wichita, said sales are flat year-over-year at his brokerage.

"I don't think we're suffering like other parts of the country," he said.

"These first-time buyers helped in the last quarter. Since the tax credit has continued, the first-time buyer purchases should remain strong. As the economy improves, we think the market will take off."

The National Association of Realtors estimated that about 2 million homebuyers have taken advantage of the credit so far and forecasts that another 2.4 million will use it by the middle of next year. First-time buyers made up about half of all transactions last month, driving sales up 44 percent above last year's levels, a record jump.

Sales nationwide are now up 46 percent from the bottom in January but down 10 percent from the peak more than four years ago.

The median sales price was $172,600, down 4.3 percent from a year earlier, and up 0.2 percent from October.

"Things are stabilizing," said Pete Flint, chief executive of real estate Web site Trulia.com. "There is a significant amount of buyer interest out there."

November sales rose 7.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.54 million, from a downwardly revised pace of 6.09 million in October.

Sales had been expected to rise to an annual pace of 6.25 million, according to economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

The inventory of unsold homes on the market fell about 1 percent to 3.5 million. That's a 6 1/2-month supply at the current sales pace, the lowest level in three years.

Besides the existing tax credit of up to $8,000 for first-time buyers, homeowners who have lived in their current properties for at least five years can now claim a tax credit of up to $6,500 if they relocate. To qualify, buyers must sign a purchase agreement by April 30.

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