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South Jersey home sales gaining strength, up 8 percent over last year – Atlantic City Press article

Area home market strengthens in area counties.

Realtor monthly sales figures for homes
— single family, townhomes and condos —

County Data:  Feb. 2012, Jan. 2012, Feb. 2011

Atlantic County: 107, 114, 99

Cape May County: 106, 113, 92

Cumberland County: 36, 3,3 32

Source: Multiple listing services for Atlantic, Cape May counties

As spring home shopping starts, the housing industry is beginning to contribute to the economic recovery nationally and locally.

February homes sales in the U.S. were 9 percent higher than a year ago, and sales in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties nearly matched the gain at 8 percent, Realtor figures showed Wednesday.

“The good thing is, this reverses the trend of last quarter where local sales were not keeping up with the national numbers,” said Anthony D’Alicandro, president of the Atlantic City and County Board of Realtors. “One reason was a lack of housing inventory, and in January and February we had back-to-back 7 percent increases in the listings coming onto the market.”
The faster start to home sales this year is building on a trend that began last year, said Jeffrey Otteau, a prominent housing analyst and president of Otteau Valuation Group.

“The recovery of the New Jersey housing market began slowly, with a 5 percent increase in home-purchase contracts during the second half of 2011,” Otteau said. “The speed of that recovery accelerated in January with 4,700 home-purchase contracts, which reflects a 31 percent increase compared to one year earlier.”

Otteau said that was the best sales performance since 2008, and even 100 more than January 2010, when sales were boosted by federal tax credits for homebuyers.

February homes sales were about 1 percent lower than January, and in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties combined existing home sales declined to 249 from 260 the month before.

Economist Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors, said the data indicates the rising sales pace seen in January will continue.

“When you compare the level of purchases with what occurred a year earlier, sales were up solidly in every region. Also, prices are now rising for both condos and single-family dwellings. That is really good news,” Naroff said in a commentary on the Realtor figures.

He said it was reasonable to expect home sales to increase 10 percent this year compared with last. “That would be really welcome news.”

The Ocean City market had 15 sales in February compared to nine in January and 12 in Febuary 2011.

Jeff Quintin, of Prudential Fox & Roach Realtors in Ocean City, said contracts for future sales there more than doubled to 58 in January and stayed at that level last month.

“Buyers are making decisions quicker, and the high-end buyer is coming into the market now, so the average price is going up as higher-end properties sell,” Quintin said.

D’Alicandro, who is also broker/owner of Coldwell Banker Casa Bella Realtors in Linwood, said the strong sales figures come on top of a jump in building permits locally to a 31/2-year high.

In Atlantic County in January, building permits increased by more than a third to 34 for the month. Combined with Cape May and Cumberland counties, permits to build new housing increased 15 percent.

“New construction has been almost nonexistent for the last five years, but there has still been a lot of family formations,” D’Alicandro said. “So we’re starting to see some demand for new construction.”

Lender Processing Services Inc. had more good housing news Wednesday, reporting that the U.S. mortgage delinquency rate in February was less than 8 percent, down 14 percent from the year before. Preliminary LPS data, however, showed New Jersey remained among the five states with the highest percentage of loans delinquent or in foreclosure.

The National Association of Realtors survey also showed the U.S. median home price rising in February for the first time in four months. The 0.3 percent gain put it at $156,600.

Homes sold at an annual rate of 4.6 million, up from 4.2 million in February 2011 but still well below the 6 million pace typical of a strong housing market.

The improving housing market coincides with gains in the U.S. job market.

Over the past three months, the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to 8.3 percent as the number of people with full-time jobs has risen by 1.45 million.

Published by the Atlantic City Press:  Thursday, March 22, 2012 1:30 am | Updated: 7:12 am, Thu Mar 22, 2012.  Written by KEVIN POST Business Editor | Atlantic City Press