August home sales in Wichita area down from 2009, up from July

New and existing homes sales in the Wichita area dropped by a third in August from the same month of 2009, according to new figures from the Wichita Area Association of Realtors.

Agents sold 572 homes during the month, compared with 851 in August 2009.

Sales have suffered since June with the expiration of the homebuyer tax credit. There were 896 sales in June and 559 in July.

"With the tax credit last spring, we borrowed business from the future," said Penny Johnson, a broker with Keller Williams in Wichita.

"People are still buying. It's not dead, but we're not in '05, '06, '07 or '08."

Tessa Hultz, CEO of the association, said the drop wasn't actually as bad as they had feared.

"We thought that an even higher percentage had been taken," she said. "Everybody was expecting the whiplash to be worse than it has been, and August sales seem to be starting back up."

She said she thought the coming months will reveal the underlying level of activity, without the government tax credit stimulating demand.

"We're getting closer to finding out what normal is," she said.

The number of unsold homes has piled up as buying has slowed. The amount of time needed to clear existing home inventory in August was 8.2 months, up from 5.4 months in June. The time to clear new home inventory was 12.1 months in August, triple the 4.0 months in June.

Prices are sending mixed signals.

The median price of an existing home was $104,900 in August, down from $110,000 in June and $115,000 in August 2009.

But Hultz noted that the average price for an existing home actually rose during August to $131,698. That was only the fifth time in four years the average price has topped $130,000, she said.

That suggests that more high-end homes are being sold.

Stan Longhofer, director of the Center for Real Estate at Wichita State University, said the most authoritative survey showed Wichita-area prices fell 1.1 percent between the second quarters of 2009 and 2010, but he couldn't say how home prices have performed since then.

The tax credits have obscured what natural market prices should be, he said.

"The key question for the fourth quarter and into next year is, 'Will we see continued decline, stabilization or the beginning of a rise in prices?' "