Snow puts freeze on home sales

There's a new four-letter word in the residential real estate business in Wichita and nationally: snow.

A month of harsh winter weather has halted what local brokers said was growing buyer momentum in the Wichita market, a problem that's also struck the eastern half of the United States.

But local and national brokers have the same answer to the snow: It'll melt and buyers will hopefully come back, sooner rather than later.

"What I'm hearing from members is a continued feeling that the housing market has been picking up pace in the past couple of months," said Tessa Hultz, chief executive of the Wichita Area Association of Realtors. "I think the snow may delay, but not stall, an overall uptick in home sales for the first quarter."

Officials at J.P. Weigand & Sons, the city's largest residential broker, say January and February are routinely slow in Wichita.

"January was a mixed bag," said Gary Walker, Weigand's residential general manager. "We were down a little from 2010 in units, but up a little in volume. So average prices were higher. Pretty much what we expected."

Walker said traffic has been up since December, including buyer foot traffic at showings and new listings. But the February snow halted most of that, he said.

"The weather has been an absolute killer," Walker said. "Buyers don't want to look and sellers don't like their homes shown in this stuff. It shouldn't affect us in the long run, but it just stops everything while it's happening."

Nationally, winter storms historically have been disruptive in the short term to regional sales, said Walter Molony, a spokesman for the National Association of Realtors.

"As we've observed these events over time, normally major storms only cause temporary disruptions," Molony said. "For sales closings, they're often just delayed about a week. Obviously, it pretty much stops shopping traffic for a period of days to a week, but unless the impact is for an extended period there is little more than a blip in the monthly data."

But with twin snowstorms in Wichita this month, some business could be delayed until March, Hultz and Molony said.

"The weather will have some effect on the February foot traffic," Hultz said, "but those same buyers will likely only be delayed by a week or two into the month of March.

"For a while now, we have had incredibly low interest rates, good selection of homes in inventory, and now confidence is rising."

"In the case of twin blizzards, it would be more likely to see a dip in monthly activity followed by a rebound in the following month, particularly given the fact that the market is experiencing an uptrend," Molony said.