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Realtors See Steady Improvement In Local Market



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Newtown Board of Realtors president Barbara Frey is pleased with the direction the housing market in Newtown is headed this year. “There’s a real positive feeling in the air,” she said. Despite year-to-date sales slightly off from this time one year ago (60 homes sold since January 2015 versus 66 that period in 2014), it is an “extremely active market right now. Agents tell me they are busy morning to night,” Ms Frey said. Fifty-two homes have recently gone under deposit. There are an additional 23 pending sales, as of March 25.

The Newtown/Sandy Hook market currently has 255 single-family homes listed for sale, a number that Ms Frey said seems reasonable. As recently as this past September, 284 houses were listed for sale. According to information provided to The Newtown Bee by the local board in 2013, Newtown’s inventory was 253 at that time, down from a 2012 high of 319 homes on the market.

Ten percent of the homes under deposit now are bank owned or short sales, with another seven bank owned or short sale homes among the pending sales. (A short sale is when the bank agrees to let homeowners price a house at less than the current amount owed the bank.)

She did not have statistics, but Ms Frey said she felt that number of homes in foreclosure was down a bit from the past year.

Houses are selling in all price ranges, but the most activity is in houses priced between $200,000 and $400,000, Ms Frey said. Of the homes under deposit, 15 are priced between $200,000 and $300,000, and 14 are between $300,000 and $400,000. Another ten are selling between $400,000 and $500,000. The median selling price is currently at $322,500 for a single-family home in Newtown, down from $345,000 last year. Agents and sellers are not disappointed, she said, to find homes selling at around 92 percent of the asking price.

Sellers are pricing homes realistically, and coming to terms with the true market value, she said. When the bottom fell out of the housing market in this region eight years ago, following a period when housing prices soared to an extreme, sellers were reluctant to price homes accordingly. That led to houses remaining on the market for long periods of time, and an overload of homes for sale. “We’re just coming out of what I see as a cyclical trend of buying and selling,” said Ms Frey, who has been in the business for 18 years.

The country has been on an upward trend the past three years, with sales for single-family homes and condominiums 4.7 percent higher in February 2015 than a year earlier. “[Newtown] has been slower to recover, compared to other parts of the country,” she admitted. “During the boom, we boomed harder, so we got hit harder.” She is confident that the town will pick up momentum. “It just takes more time,” Ms Frey said.

If sellers are willing to put in the work to update a home and price it attractively, she said, a house will sell.

Newtown house shoppers are very particular. They are looking for new, or a turnkey house. Updated kitchens and baths with stainless appliances and granite counters, furniture-style bathroom vanities, tile floors, and custom fixtures all make a home more salable, she said. Young professionals looking to move into Newtown/Sandy Hook do not want to deal with outmoded homes.

Appropriate landscaping is a must, as curb appeal remains crucial when selling. Decluttering in and around the home is essential. “And,” said Ms Frey, “you can’t put a value on cleanliness.”

“I tell my sellers to look at their home with a critical eye. Plan ahead if you are planning to sell,” she advised. Updating and decluttering a home can take up to a year.

“It’s still a buyer’s market,” she pointed out.

Buyers not only have a decent selection of homes in Newtown/Sandy Hook from which to choose, but a range of financing, as well. “There is a whole array of mortgages out there, and we are finding that getting a mortgage is no trouble for reliable buyers,” Ms Frey said.

Sellers should plan to get their home on the market no later than Memorial Day, she recommended, as there is traditionally a slowdown during the summer months. Buyers, too, should consider this period of time to find a home and pursue financing, as a small increase in interest rates is expected by summer.

“Rates are low, and prices are hopefully about as low as they are going to go. So going forward, it will be quite an investment [for people who buy now], said Ms Frey.

Newtown agents continue to face two challenges that have been ongoing for years. Taxes in Newtown are much higher than in many surrounding towns, and commuters to the city or coastal areas will not find easy access to mass transportation. Neither are issues easy to resolve. Broadening the commercial base would help keep taxes in line, but it must be done in a manner that does not negatively affect the rural atmosphere that attracts buyers. “It’s a real balancing act,” she admitted.

Still, how outsiders perceive Newtown does help sell property.

“People get more house for the dollar here; there is a focus on family and children; and we have a sense of community. People move here for that better quality of life, and sometimes that costs a little more,” said Ms Frey. The schools, she said, are a really strong driver for families wishing to settle here.

Nor have agents found the Sandy Hook market to suffer, post 12/14. As a matter of fact, Ms Frey said, there has always been more volume in that area of town, due to the amount of housing located there. “The homes in the subdivisions of Sandy Hook are moving as they always have. There seems to be an appreciation for the kind of community we have. People really seem to admire Newtown,” she said.

“We’re all enthusiastic,” Ms Frey said. “There’s an energy here, and I hope to see momentum building throughout 2015.”

Except for what appears to be an anomaly in 2009, when record high median sales prices in Newtown plummeted briefly, median sales prices over the past five years have fluctuated on what Newtown Board of Realtors President Barbara Frey called normal cycles. There has been a return to "realistic" pricing the past two to three years.
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