Early reports show home sales on way up

Watch out for the Wichita area March home sales numbers. They could be way up.

The first look at March home sales numbers nationwide, the Real Trends Housing Market Report, shows Midwest sales up 14 percent over March 2009.

Some local brokers said they think the final numbers could be better than that in Wichita. The official March figures, from the Wichita Area Association of Realtors and the South Central Kansas Multiple Listing Service, should be out later this month.

"March was better than we expected, but with one caveat," said Willie Kihle, president of Wichita's Prudential Dinning-Beard Realtors.

"I don't know that anyone really knows what to expect anymore. It wasn't atypical of a March, which are typically some of the best months of the year, but it was a very nice month."

March just missed becoming a record-setting month at J.P. Weigand & Sons, said residential general manager Gary Walker, falling just $400,000 short of the mark for new business written.

"For us to have a month like March is just phenomenal," Walker said.

Housing markets across the country moved sharply upward in March, according to Real Trends. National sales were up 13 percent over March 2009, and the average price of homes rose 8.6 percent over the same month.

Midwest prices were up 6 percent over March 2009, according to the report.

"The market is reacting as most expected with housing consumers starting to move quickly to take advantage of the tax credits for first-time and move-up home purchases," Steve Murray, editor of Real Trends, said in a news release.

Local brokers credit low interest rates and the possibility they'll go up in the second half of the year.

"It's one of the big reasons I'm growing more optimistic about the second half of the year," Walker said. "We're seeing a lot of business that isn't tied to the tax credit.

"Some is, certainly, and there's some sense of urgency to get a contract written before April 30, but we think it's the low rates. People are out there buying to get a good rate before they rise."

Kihle said he thinks there are a number of factors in play.

"Rates are good, we have a lot of inventory, and there's no question that people are trying to get in on the tax benefit," he said.

"It's all coming together this spring into a nice opportunity for people and a nice market for the Realtors."

The national increase in sales is the seventh month in a row where sales were above the same month from the prior year, Real Trends reports.

Average sale prices have risen for four months.

Sales should continue to be above monthly 2009 levels from 4 to 7 percent, Real Trends' Murray said. Home prices should continue to strengthen through the summer but could level out late in the year.