Housing market is improving

There is optimism among Realtors serving Redding that 2013 is going to be a better year for local real estate sales.

“It certainly looks like it [the housing market] will improve,” said Ira Stone, who manages Coldwell Banker’s Redding office.

Pointing to the 38 agents in his office, he said they have been so busy since the second week in January, “I’ve barely seen them.” He described real estate activity in January, and so far this month, as “very good. It is a much better year for real estate than it has been in the past.”

“I certainly see a bit of an uptick in activity,” said Roni Agress of  William Pitt/Sotheby’s International Reality’s Ridgefield office. There has been an increase in the number of units sold in Redding over the past months. “We’re getting into the spring market now, so it is not unusual to see an increase, but if we go back a few years, there has been an uptick in the units sold,” she said, later adding she is not seeing an appreciation in prices.

“I’m starting to see a stabilization in the market. I don’t see individual prices falling, and there are fewer short sales and foreclosures at this time of the year,” Ms. Agress said. She added that a classic indicator that there is some kind of stabilization is that people are not pricing themselves out of the market.

Ms. Agress said market stability instills consumer confidence and then people are more willing to buy.

“We still have lower [mortgage] interest rates and the banks seem to be more liquid in terms of making loans,” she said. There are also no appraisal issues, meaning a more stable environment and less risk to banks to fund properties for qualified buyers, Ms. Agress said. And prices are more commensurate with the current market value of a property, she added.

“Redding is its own entity. It is last to get hit with the bad and the last to come back,” said Jeri Lorenzini of Keller Williams Realty’s Ridgefield office.

She said people buy closer to Stamford, Greenwich, Darien, and even New York City to get to work, and that’s where they start looking for houses. Because the town of Redding is farther away, it is one of the last towns where people who commute look, “except for those who love the country and don’t mind a longer commute,” said Ms. Lorenzini.

“We are seeing more activity in Wilton, Ridgefield and south. People are just now moving into Redding,” she said. If a house is priced right, it could sell in 90 to 120 days, or even less, she added.

“Our office feels there is an absolute pickup of buyer activity in the area, so we are very optimistic, but we do recognize Redding is the ‘exburbs,’” said Nick Davis, who manages Weichert Realtors’ Ridgefield office. Because of the town’s extra distance from New York, it is the slowest to return when the market is coming back, he said, adding that when the market starts going a little south, Redding is the first to go.

Typically, people who move to Redding don’t have to go all the way to New York [to work], so they just need to commute to Westchester, (N.Y.) or southern Fairfield, said Mr. Davis.

Ms. Agress agreed Redding’s market is the last to come back, but indicated it is more than just a commuting issue.

“Traditionally Redding lags behind Ridgefield in activity and price point, so when Ridgefield’s booming and its inventory is reduced, people look to Redding,” she said.

Ms. Agress explained that many people gravitate to Ridgefield with its services and amenities and feel that Redding is isolated, “and don’t really know how close the town is to them” or  know about “the ambiance, privacy and wonderful character of the town.”

“Unless they target Redding specifically, they start in Ridgefield and then look in Redding,” she said.

The Ridgefield market is now very active, with lots of listings, and Ms. Agress sees a positive turn for the spring market, although she cautions the market will still have its ups and downs. She has not yet seen a lot of new listings in Redding, she said, but expects to see more in the spring.

“It starts in Ridgefield and flows to Redding,” she said.

Looking back, Mr. Davis said the height of the real estate market in Redding was probably 2006. “It was not a straight-line drop to the end of 2012. There were a couple of up years,” he said. “However, if we speak to statisticians, there was a steady downward trend. Now it looks like everything has evened off.”

Using data from the Greater Fairfield County CMLS, a local multiple listing service, Mr. Davis said the average sales price in Redding for 2012 was $704,200, up from $629,890 in 2011.

The median sales price in 2011 was $550,000, compared to $525,000 in 2012.

“I believe it is hard to interpret [the numbers] because in a small town like Redding, it doesn’t take many sales on the high or low end to change the numbers,” he said, explaining that the number of sales in the low end of the market can pull down the median price.

“Certainly it appears the decline in prices has leveled off,” said Mr. Davis, adding this is seen not in the median sales price but in the average sales price.

“Buyers have a lot of options,” said Ms. Lorenzini. “I’m seeing the market stronger,” she said, pointing to buyers who have been saving and keeping their credit good. The rates “are good and the house prices are great,” she added.

“It is cheaper to buy a house than rent now,” Ms. Lorenzini said. “We’ve picked up on the number of units sold. It’s promising for a good spring.”

Neither Ms. Lorenzini nor Mr. Stone would classify the market as either a buyer’s market or a seller’s market. “If a home is priced the right way, then there is a buyer for it,” said Mr. Stone.

“It is always a function of determining value. Buyers need to perceive the value in the home. If the house is priced right, they perceive the value and they buy it,” he said, adding a house has to meet the buyer’s needs.

“Some look for antique homes and have a better chance of finding them here,” he said, adding that a good school system is also a draw. There are also a few buyers who are looking for second homes, said Mr. Stone.

“The town’s rural nature is a big draw for many people,” said Mr. Davis. “Redding is one of the leading towns in the development of open space, and that translates into a rural community.”

If people are concerned there is no downtown in Redding, Mr. Davis said, he tells his agents to remind buyers they will have access to downtown Wilton or downtown Ridgefield.

When investors and first-time buyers buy the lower-end houses, it forces sellers to buy up, said Ms. Lorenzini. Middle-priced housed aren’t affected by the current market as much as the very high-end and low-end houses, she said.

On the very high end, “we are seeing people with a lot to invest. Not a huge number, but these houses are starting to sell. However, sales of houses in the $1-million to $5-million range “are pretty quiet,” she said. “People are doing a lot of improvements and enjoying them for the next few years, and that helps the economy, too,” she said.

Ms. Agress’s assessment of the local housing market agrees with Ms. Lorenzini’s.

She said “oddly enough” in Redding, the houses in the $800,000 and $900,000 and low millions range “are unusually tough price points,” but the higher end are getting activity and some in the middle range are just holding.

The low-end inventory “has to go before we see any appreciation,” Ms. Agress said. “Once this inventory is diminished, we’ll start to see mid-range properties get more activity and interest. It is a slow process but an indicator of a shift in the market. It no longer seems stagnant, and there seem to be a few more buyers,” she said.

According to the Warren Group, Connecticut home sales have increased after a seven-year slump. In a Feb. 6, 2013, press release, the Warren group said sales of single-family homes in Connecticut rose 14.8% to 24,276 in 2012, up from 21,141 in 2011. Last year marked the best year on record since 2009, when there were 24,401 sales.

“Single-family home sales in Connecticut rose in every month in 2012. This is a stark contrast to 2011, when year-over-year sales volume only increased in two months,” the Warren Group said.

In Redding in 2012, property transfers increased in six of 12 months.

“The market in Connecticut showed much improvement in 2012, compared to the previous year when we saw record lows for sales,” said Timothy M. Warren Jr., CEO of the Warren Group. “An improved employment picture and consumer confidence boosted the housing market in 2012, and prices will slowly follow suit.”


Pilot Reporter Kaitlin Bradshaw contributed to this story.

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