Local experts see positive signs in April home sales numbers

Wichita-area home sales got the expected spring bump in April, up 12.9 percent from March, but sales were still well off a 2010 pace that was skewed by federal homebuyer tax credits.

A total of 682 homes were sold in April, up from the 593 in March but down 23 percent from April 2010 when 891 homes were sold.

The South Central Kansas Multiple Listing Service and the Wichita Area Association of Realtors released the numbers Tuesday afternoon.

Still, the April sales numbers are a sign of a recovering market, said Stan Longhofer, director of Wichita State's Center for Real Estate.

"What I really like, the thing I find most encouraging, is that factoring in normal seasonal movement, we're now sitting with nine months of movement in the right direction," he said. "It's the beginnings of a trend."

There are positive signs in some segments of the Wichita home market, said John McKenzie, president of Wichita's Coldwell Banker Plaza Real Estate.

"Higher price points are selling much better than last year," McKenzie said. "Our average sales price is up considerably, year over year."

April sales were up $11 million in volume over March at J.P. Weigand & Sons, said Gary Walker, the company's residential general manager.

Those numbers remain down from 2010 but are 25 percent higher than April 2009 when there were no tax credits in the market.

"Of course, we'd always like it to be better," he said. "But we're happy with those numbers."

There remains some softness in home inventory numbers on the market, which show supplies just more than seven months.

Housing supplies are up about a month since the tax credit program started, Longhofer said.

"That's the one negative I see," he said. "We jumped up to almost a 10-month supply after the tax. We've whittled that down to seven, but we're still higher in terms of overall supply than before the tax credits."

But Longhofer looks at the seasonally adjusted numbers since July 2010 — adjusted to account for normal seasonal fluctuations in the market like the annual winter downturn — and sees hope.

"The bottom is clearly July of 2010. Since then, there's been a pretty steady upward trend of the seasonal adjusted figures.

"There's a little dip in January and February that we believe is weather related, but overall we've got about nine months of upward movement, and that's pretty good."

Walker and McKenzie said the last six months of 2011 are the true barometer of any possible recovery.

"Come July 1, when we start comparing actual sales numbers without the tax credit distortions, that's where the proof is in the pudding," Walker said.