12/23/2010 - Asheville area home sales mixed
by Mark Barrett
ASHEVILLE -- The number of existing homes sold in Buncombe County this year continues to stay just ahead of sales from a year ago despite a precipitous drop in November. The 136 homes sold in Buncombe last month was exactly one-third less than the total for November 2009. But the comparison is skewed by strong sales a year ago related to the federal tax credit for first-time homebuyers. Sales for the first 11 months of this year were 1 percent higher than a year ago. However, June was the last month of 2010 when sales were higher than the same month a year ago. The lure of tax credits for buyers boosted sales in fall 2009 and the first part of this year. The credit for first-time buyers was scheduled to expire at the end of November 2009 but was extended, and another credit for other buyers was added. However, the timing of the extension in early November last year meant many buyers already had purchases in the works, which artificially increased November 2009 sales, people in the industry said at the time. The changes make it hard to know just what is normal in the local housing market these days. There were 254 sales of existing homes in Buncombe County in November 2007. Sales dropped by a bit more than half to 126 in November 2008. The number of buyers moving here from elsewhere has fallen sharply, with negative consequences for those trying to sell homes in higher price ranges, two local real estate officials said. "If your home is listed at $250,000 or under or if you're buying in that price range, that's what moving right now," said Heather Judge, broker in charge at Town and Mountain Realty. Many of the sales that Century 21 Mountain Lifestyles Realty's Arden office is handling are for homes selling between $175,000 and $225,000, said Skip Dillingham, owner and broker in charge. "It's more of the local buyer, but we are still getting some of that outside flavor," he said. Dillingham and Judge both said they are seeing large numbers of foreclosure sales and short sales. The latter are cases in which an owner sells a house for less than he owes on it, often to avoid foreclosure. Judge said Town and Mountain agents sometimes advise owners to wait before listing a house for sale because their house would be unlikely to command a price higher than the amount of their mortgage. The median value of a home sold in Buncombe County rose from $208,750 in November 2009 to $214,500 last month. Home sales were mixed in three neighboring counties: They rose in Transylvania County, stayed even in Haywood County and dropped in Henderson County. There were 169 home sales in Buncombe County in October 2010.