BR-area home sales up 15%

Baton Rouge metro area home sales finished last year 15 percent stronger than 2011, with local Realtors selling 7,607 homes compared to 6,604 in 2011.

Dollar volume for the year was up 17 percent — $1.64 billion compared with $1.26 billion, according to figures compiled by the Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors.

Sandy Daly, manager of C.J. Brown’s Sherwood office, said 2012 marked a transition for Baton Rouge real estate as it left behind the doldrums that marked the years after the nation’s financial crisis.

“There were some real positive signs throughout 2012,” she said. “There was just a sense that real estate was back in business, that it had regained people’s interest.”

Daly said good values, low interest rates and rising consumer confidence helped bring buyers off the sidelines and into the market.

Sean Sullivan, owner of homebuilder DSLD Homes, in Denham Springs, cautioned that 2011 was a weak year, and any kind of rebound is going to produce impressive percentage gains by comparison.

Sullivan’s company has six subdivisions in East Baton Rouge Parish, eight in Ascension Parish, four in West Baton Rouge Parish and eight in Livingston Parish.

“It fell really for four years and now it’s coming off those low numbers,” he said. “Any kind of improvement sends it up a pretty good deal.”

“The market is not healthy, but it’s not unhealthy,” he said. “It’s kinda midway.”

The average current days on market for the year was 125 days, down from 134, though it has been falling steadily since August, finishing December at 106 days. On average, the metro area had seven months worth of homes on the market last year, compared to nine months in 2011. Six months worth of inventory is generally considered a balanced market.

As sales continue their uptick, that inventory will likely come down a bit, Daly said.

“It would be nice to have a balanced market,” she said.

Sullivan said none of the three parishes that make up the lion’s share of the local market stood out one way or the other, and the numbers bear that out:

  • In East Baton Rouge Parish, home sales were up 16 percent — 4,183 homes sold compared with 3,610. Dollar volume was also up 16 percent to $843.4 million.
  • In Ascension, home sales were up 12 percent for the year, with 1,442 homes sold compared with 1,293. Dollar volume was up 13 percent to $291.5 million.
  • In Livingston, home sales were up 14 percent, with 1,263 home sold in 2012 compared with 1,111 in 2011. Dollar volume was also up 14 percent to $193.3 million.

December saw metro area home sales rise 11 percent, and Daly said sales toward the end of the year were fueled somewhat by a lack of certainty about the future. She said some provisions of the Dodd-Frank act yet to be enacted could make financing more difficult.

She said that while there is talk about curbing the mortgage interest deduction, it likely won’t effect the overwhelming majority of homeowners and should not effect sales.

Daly said there may be some loosening of credit, with buyers with slightly lower credits scores — high 600s instead of 720, for example — beginning to qualify for loans.

Sullivan said he couldn’t say whether credit will be any easier to come by this year, but said it probably can’t get much tougher. Low mortgage rates, the ability of buyers to get financing and job growth, “those three things are going to decide what’s going to happen … ”

Sullivan said homes in the $160,000-$250,000 will continue to lead the market, though he said there could be some potential growth in the $120,000-$150,000 range while above $250,000 could start to come up a bit.

“You probably are going to see a little bit of improvement this year, but nothing dramatic,” he said.