Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

April 26, 2013

Moving in the right direction

Local real estate market trending upward.

By Scott Smith
Tribune staff writer

— The Kokomo residential housing market has been on a roller coaster ride for the past few years, but area real estate agents are convinced the long-term trend is finally heading upward.

“There are a lot of people working, especially with the new Chrysler jobs, and we’re just seeing more stability in the jobs market,” said Amy Pate, director of the Realtors Association of Central Indiana. “A lot of the people who lost homes, or who had trouble getting loans, we’re starting to see these people getting back into the market.”

Home closings are ahead of last year’s pace, and median sales prices are up slightly. Sellers are also seeing a slight benefit, in terms of the percentage of the asking price they’ve been able to recoup.

Even foreclosures and short sales, the bane of sellers trying to get a good price, are showing signs of at least stabilizing.

Kevin Hardie, owner of Hardie Group Real Estate Co., said sales in the last six months to a year have considerably helped stabilize prices, as appraisers began to have an easier time finding comparably priced home sales.

“I guess I never anticipated the market would turn around quickly. I always thought it would be a slow process,” Hardie said.

Particularly in the $150,000 to $300,000 price range, homes are moving quickly. Multiple offers and low inventory have turned what was once a buyer-driven segment of the market into a slight seller’s market, several real estate professionals told the Tribune.

At the upper end of Kokomo’s housing market, the buyers “just disappeared” during the recession,  said appraiser Steve Taylor of Johnston & Taylor Associates, Kokomo.

“People who had to sell (during the recession) for various reasons had to take a big hit, just to sell,” Taylor said. “Now what we’re seeing is a shortage of listings in that area.”

Foreclosures, which at the peak of the recession made up close to 40 percent of all Howard County home sales, are down to about 13 percent of sales, Hardie said. As of Wednesday, 78 of the 564 homes for sale in the area were foreclosures.

Kristal Pyle, short sales specialist at Metropolitan Title Co., said she is staying busy with short sales, which occur anytime a seller presents an offer to their mortgage company for less than they owe.

“I think they’re slowing down, but they’re still there,” she said. The programs being offered to help “underwater” homeowners, who owe more than their home is worth, are changing, she said. News rules are aimed at making sure the government and investors move the property to a new owner quickly.

Backlogs and gluts of foreclosed properties might have still been impacting the local housing market in late 2011, when prices bottomed out after rising steadily the prior year.

Since early 2012, however, prices have been steadily climbing. Inventories in some segments have been tightening.

“The really good stuff goes pretty fast. The trouble right now is finding something people want,” Kokomo Realtor Cheryl Duncan said. “We’re seeing people getting pretty close to asking price.”

The real estate professionals all agreed that the good news in the local job front — with a local workforce now employing 4,000 more people than in 2009 — is starting to drive the market.

“It’s not anywhere near what things were [pre-recession], but it’s starting to stabilize,” Duncan said. “People aren’t taking the huge hits they once were.”

Scott Smith can be reached at 765-454-8569 or at scott.smith@kokomotribune.com.

For more on this story and other local news, subscribe to The Kokomo Tribune eEdition, or our print edition