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Massachusetts housing market shows signs of perking up

homes825-thumbThe number of Massachusetts homes sold last month jumped nearly 12 percent from July 2008, and the decline in prices moderated, the Warren Group reported today.

Low interest rates, reduced prices, the first-time homebuyer tax credit, and improved consumer confidence contributed to last month's results, said the Warren Group, the Boston firm that tracks local real estate data and publishes Banker & Tradesman.

"This is a much-needed boost for the state's housing market," Warren Group chief executive Timothy M. Warren Jr. said in a statement. "We haven't had a double-digit gain in monthly home sales since last October. And the declines in home prices have been getting smaller every month."

A trend toward moderation first seen in June appeared to continue in July, he added, while cautioning: "We're not out of the woods yet. We have to see consistent gains in sales going forward for home prices to stabilize." The number of single-family home sold in Massachusetts rose 11.8 percent to 4,977 from 4,453 in July 2008, the first increase in monthly home sales year-over-year in 2009, the Warren Group said.

The median selling price for single-family homes fell 4.7 percent to $305,000 from $320,000.

"Monthly median home prices fell by double-digit percentages year-over-year in the first five months of 2009," the Warren Group said. "But in June and July, home prices slipped by only single-digit percentages. The median price for homes sold through July retreated 11.4 percent to $280,000 from $316,000."

The Warren Group press release continued: "Condo sales remained fairly flat in July, but that's a significant step up from prior months when sales sank by 20 to 30 percent. And the decline in condo prices in July wasn't as steep as it has been."

The number of Massachusetts condos sold in July was 2,190 in July, slightly lower than the 2,227 sales in July 2008. So far this year, condo sales are off by about 20 percent, the Warren Group said.

The median condo price fell 4.3 percent to $276,000 in July from $288,500 last year. July's 4.3 percent drop was the smallest so far in 2009. the Warren Group reported. In the first five months of the year, price declines exceeded 10 percent.

The Massachusetts Association of Realtors also issued its monthly report on the local housing market this morning. The association uses a different method to track sales activity than the Warren Group does.

July sales of single-family homes were up 12.7 percent compared with the same month a year ago, the first time since December 2008 that home sales have gone up year-over-year, the association said. Condominium sales were also up for the first time since August 2007.

According to the association, the number of single-family homes sold in July was 4,460 versus 3,957 in July 2008 and up 7.5 percent from the 4,147 sold in June 2009, the association said.

The median selling price for a detached single-family home in Massachusetts was $310,000, down 5.1 percent from $326,500 in July 2008 and up 1.3 percent from $306,000 in June 2009, the association said.

Looking at the Massachusetts condo market for last month, the association said that sales were essentially flat on a year-to-year basis - 1,820 sold in July 2009 versus 1,803 in July 2008 and up 12.1 percent from 1,623 sold in June of this year.

The July median selling price for a Massachusetts condo was $275,000, down 3.5 percent from $284,950 a year ago and flat with June 2009, the association said.

"Activity has been building for the past few months and we are finally seeing the real estate market respond in a positive way," Massachusetts Association of Realtors president Gary Rogers said in a statement. "Buyers are taking advantage of the $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit, low interest rates, and more affordable prices and getting into the market. While it is only one month, the number of homes put under agreement are also up, which means there is a good chance we could see additional months of increased sales ahead."

One bit of sobering perspective to put the July reports in context: The Warren Group recently reported that while Bay State foreclosures in July dropped sharply from a year ago, the number of foreclosure proceedings started by lenders increased to approach "historic highs."

The recession has consumers being furloughed or laid off, and one result is that more people are struggling to make their monthly house payments, that foreclosure report suggested.