Real estate forecast cautiously optimistic

The photo on the screen Friday at the Wichita Area Builders Association represented the 2010 local housing market: one small blade of grass poking through a thick layer of ice.

That blade represents the first sign that the Wichita housing market is emerging from the icy cold of a recession, Stan Longhofer said Friday morning as he presented the 2010 Kansas housing forecast to about 75 people at WABA.

And after the presentation, several of the players in the market agreed: Signs of a recovery are at hand, but it will be about 60 days before the 2010 picture clears.

A slow-but-steady recovery that began in January 2009 showed some momentum a year later, Longhofer told the group. As a result, he thinks Wichita area home sales will rise 5.1 percent this year, to 9,059 units - still below sales figures for 2001.

"In January (2010), there were a lot of new listings added to the market," said Longhofer, the director of Wichita State's Center for Real Estate.

"Sellers know about the tax credit, and they're now interested in selling. It represents a fundamental shift in the mentality of sellers in our market."

As a result, there's some cautious optimism among Wichita builders, suppliers and bankers.

But after winter weather that brought building and buying to a near-halt, they're reluctant to proclaim 2010 the year of recovery — for about 60 days, at least.

"I think because of the weather we've had over the last four months and the fact we just finally hit 60 degrees for the first time since Nov. 28, there's going to be an opportunity for people to get back out on weekends and look at houses," said Gary Schmitt, who heads Intrust Bank's real estate lending department."

"That's going to give us a good sign whether activity or increase, or because of unemployment or consumer confidence they don't show up to buy."

Come back to for more on this story or read Saturday's Eagle.