HOME SALES

A home for sale on East Platte Ave. Thursday, April 28, 2016. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

Don't blink.

If you do, you might miss out on the home you're looking to buy - especially if you're shopping in the $300,000-or-under price range.

Demand for single-family homes - particularly in less-expensive neighborhoods - was red-hot during the first quarter in Colorado Springs and surrounding El Paso County, according to Pikes Peak Association of Realtors figures. Prices followed suit, with many areas seeing double-digit percentage increases from a year earlier.

As a result, Colorado Springs ranked No. 12 in April on the National Association of Realtors' list of the nation's 20 hottest real estate markets, based on the speed at which homes are selling.

"You'd better do it now," Harry Salzman, of Salzman Real Estate Services and ERA Shields Real Estate, said of buying a home. "Prices are going to go up."

Want a few examples? Data compiled by the research arm of the Realtors Association show:

- In Fountain Valley, south of the Springs, median prices rose 10.1 percent to $219,000 in the first quarter compared with the same period last year. Fountain Valley homes sold in an average of 47 days during that period - twice as fast as a year ago when they were on the market for 95 days.

- On Colorado Springs' east side, the first-quarter median price jumped 7.8 percent to $194,000. For-sale signs disappeared after homes spent an average of 38 days on the market, compared with 89 days in the same period last year.

- In southeast Colorado Springs, the median price of $166,500 in the first three months of 2016 increased by 10.7 percent on a year-over-year basis. But homes stayed on the market an average of just 26 days. A year ago, southeast side homes took an average of 76 days to sell.

Low mortgage rates and pent-up demand after the recession have fueled the surge, real estate agents say; in the first quarter, El Paso County home sales totaled 2,654 - a nearly one-fourth increase on a year-over-year basis.

At the same time, the inventory of homes listed for sale - especially in lower price ranges - has fallen to a more than 20-year low and helped propel prices. Countywide, the median price - or midpoint - increased to $240,000 in the first quarter, a 5.3 percent gain over the same period last year.

Another factor that has buoyed the market: Although apartments and rental homes remain full, rising rents have prompted some people to buy a home, Salzman added.

Now, mix in a stronger local economy - the area added 7,400 jobs last year and the Springs' unemployment rate was 3.6 percent in March - and the single-family home market has taken off.

The improved economy has especially bolstered the outlook that many people have on the Springs in general, Salzman said.

"I think that because the community is feeling like it's a better place to live, a better quality of life," he said. "People are going, 'Oh, you know, I get it. I would like to call this home.' "

Yet, while the hot housing market is good news for the community, there's a downside.

Buyers face fierce competition and bidding wars, especially for lower-priced homes. Some sellers can choose from multiple offers - and call the shots on the price they get, the closing date and when they'll move out of their home.

"Many buyers are frustrated by the multiple-offer situations," said Darrell Wass, an agent with Re/Max Advantage and this year's board chairman of the Pikes Peak Association of Realtors. "Many buyers are losing homes - multiple properties - before they can actually win a bid."

And heading into the spring and summer buying season, there's not much to indicate the market will cool, Wass said. More homes are being listed for sale, but the number of buyers is increasing, too, he said. Meanwhile, fixed-rate, 30-year mortgages averaged a low 3.66 percent last week, according to mortgage buyer Freddie Mac.

Even if mortgage rates rise, they're not expected to severely dampen the market, Wass said, quoting a recent forecast by economist Lawrence Yun of the National Association of Realtors.

"We're finally getting the economic growth that we've been going after for a long time," Wass said. "And with that adding to the normal population increase, and the lack of inventory and the lack of building that went on for several years, I don't see it slowing down anytime soon."

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Contact Rich Laden: 636-0228

Twitter: @richladen

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