Midwest home sales slip 17%; prices rise

August home sales were down 17 percent year over year in the Midwest, according to a survey that is the leading national snapshot available monthly on the housing market.

And they appear down by similar figures locally, Wichita brokers say, although final figures haven't been released. The dual culprits continue to be high unemployment and the end of homebuyer tax credits.

But there's evidence in the Wichita market and the Midwest that upscale buyers, confident in their jobs and anxious to lock in historically low interest rates, are climbing back into the market.

While sales were up slightly from July, the figures are down 13.7 percent nationally from August 2009, according to Real Trends, a Colorado-based housing market analyst.

More significantly, August 2010 sales are down 29 percent from levels in August 2007, the first year that the analyst produced monthly housing market reports.

But, there's a clear sign of a shift in the hottest residential markets. According to Steve Murray, editor of Real Trends, average sales prices in the Midwest were up 5.5 percent over a year ago.

And preliminary figures indicate that Wichita average sale prices are up 7 percent year over year, said Tessa Hultz, CEO of the Wichita Area Association of Realtors.

Average existing sales price for Wichita hit $131,698 in August, up 7 percent from the $122,823 figure in August 2009.

New sales prices were up modestly, at $245,318, up 1.8 percent from the $241,097 in August 2009.

John McKenzie, president of Wichita's Coldwell Banker Plaza Real Estate, said those figures don't surprise him.

"The affluent buyers are out in droves with good selection in the market," McKenzie said. "Money is the cheapest in decades and the opportunity to buy right is now.

"Sales prices are up because the tax credits have been exhausted and we are seeing good activity in the upper price ranges. Our company average sales price is up significantly over first half of the this year, which supports the movement in the upper price ranges."