Home sales brisk as deadline nears

New and existing Wichita home sales in March were 12 percent higher than a year ago.

And 10 days away from the contract deadline to qualify for the homebuyer tax credit, competition for the best starter homes is heating up, brokers say.

A total of 678 homes were sold locally in March, including 76 new homes, according to figures released Tuesday by the Wichita Area Association of Realtors and the South Central Kansas Multiple Listing Service.

That's 69 homes better than March 2009 and 212 homes better than February of this year.

Buyers must have a house under contract by April 30 and close by June 30 to qualify for a tax credit of $8,000 for new homeowners and $6,500 for others.

"A couple of weeks ago I got a house under contract to a first-timer, and I had four couples in the house at the same time, all with different Realtors," said Steve Wilbur, a broker at United Country Theurer Auction Realty in Wichita.

"Three of the four had both sets of parents there getting an approval. It's a really competitive environment right now for the first-timer. I got the house, but we had to go over the listed price. It's definitely a seller's market for some homes."

The March numbers show that lower-end homes are the buyer targets, with the median sale price decreasing to $188,561 from $205,141 in February.

Sales run the gamut from new to existing and historical, according to local brokers.

"We're seeing it across the board," Wilbur said. "Even some of the historical properties that have been harder to move are perking up because the tax credits are loosening up in the state."

Wilbur and Gary Walker, residential general manager for J.P. Weigand & Sons, said they expect business to be brisk through June, as the tax credit deals close and buyers try to beat rising interest rates.

"We're working sunup to sundown to get as much under our belts as we can," Wilbur said. "It could slow down a little bit after the buyers have to be under contract by the end of the month."

The next 10 days should be frantic for agents and brokers, Walker said.

"There are more listings this year than last, according to the WAAR statistics," he said. "There are 10 days left to write contracts, and the sense of urgency keeps rising.

"I've seen houses on the market for two years without a deal, and I've seen multiple offers on them all of a sudden. It's crazy."