Good News on the Housing Front

Albuquerque Journal North

Amid a litany of dismal economic news nationally, Santa Fe has found a ray of sunshine.

A report released Wednesday showed an uptick in city home sales and prices this summer, prompting this comment from Baro Shalizi, president of the Santa Fe Association of Realtors: “Overall, the picture is looking good for the quarter. We can just hope and pray it stays that way.”

Median home prices within city limits spiked 24 percent – from $344,000 to $427,250 – between the second and third quarters this year, according to the association’s latest quarterly report.

The third-quarter median price was 16 percent higher than the $368,000 recorded during the same three-month period last year.

July through September also produced the best sales seen so far in 2008 for city homes. During the three-month period, 190 homes were sold within Santa Fe city boundaries, a favorable increase compared to the 138 and 116 houses moved during the first and second quarters, respectively.

The number was nearly level with the 191 units sold during the third quarter of 2007.

That news was among the bright spots.

The view wasn’t as good outside the city limits. Statistics showed decreasing sales in Santa Fe County, a greater number of homes on the local market, and homes staying on the market longer.

The 115 homes sold in the county in the third quarter marked a dramatic decrease from the 181 sold during the July-September time period in 2007, as well as a slight tumble from the 124 county homes sold last quarter. The median price for a county home also decreased quarter-to-quarter, dropping from $486,500 in the April-June period to $425,500 July through September.

The median price was $416,250 in the third quarter of 2007.

Shalizi and other realtors suggested Wednesday that buyers may be shunning Santa Fe County in favor of something more urban. “As prices have come down, people can afford things in the city. I think people would rather go to the city,” Shalizi said.

Association president-elect Mary Schroeder said the rising cost of gasoline is also beginning to be a major factor for people trying to choose a location.

The city’s median price may be increasing, Shalizi said, because the buyers left in the current market tend to have the means to buy more expensive homes. “Since most people who come here don’t come because of jobs … the people who could afford (a home) are still coming,” he said.

Individually, sales were down quarter-to-quarter in every area of the county except the northwest – which includes the wealthy Las Campanas subdivision – and southwest.

In the northwest, the median home price of the 33 homes sold was $910,000 – $33,000 higher than the same time last year, though a drop from the $1,055,000 seen last quarter.

“We’re not seeing as much of an impact on the higher end,” Shalizi noted.

The higher city numbers were enough to pull up combined city-county homes sales from 240 to 305, quarter-to-quarter, though it’s still a far cry from the 372 homes sold during the third quarter of 2007.

Median homes prices in the combined territory increased year-to-year, rising from $416,250 in the third quarter of last year to $425,500 this year.

Other highlights:

There were 2,258 homes for sale in Santa Fe’s city and county territory during the third quarter of 2008. That’s an increase over the 2,204 homes on the market last quarter and the 1,733 homes for sale in the third quarter of 2007.

“Inventories have increased, so it’s still a great time for buyers. If they can get their financing together, it’s a great time to buy,” Shalizi said.

The number of days a home is sitting on the market in the combined city-county area increased from 146 in the third quarter of 2007 to 165 during the same time period in 2008.

Sales of condominiums and town homes increased slightly in the two most recent quarters of 2008, rising from 92 in the second to 96 in the third. There were 104 units sold in the third quarter of 2007.

The median condo price also increased quarter-to-quarter, from $266,250 to $285,700, though both numbers are lower than the $338,390 median of 2007’s third quarter.

Condo sales tend to soften during an overall market decline, largely because buyers favor lower-priced single-family homes, Shalizi said.

Only five homes in Santa Fe are listed as foreclosures for sale on the Web sites of major lenders Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Countrywide, according to Wayne Miller of Charter Bank.

Miller also noted his own company has only two foreclosed homes – both in Albuquerque – in its $3 billion portfolio.

“The numbers in terms of foreclosures look pretty good right now,” Miller said, though he expressed concerns about the impact a less-active construction industry could have on Santa Fe’s economy.