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'SELLER'S MARKET' IN HOMES IS FADING

The number of homes listed for sale in the Buffalo Niagara region has been climbing, taking the edge off what has been a "seller's market."

Until listings started growing last May, the housing inventory had declined each month from the year before for 6 1/2 years, according to Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors data.

Real estate industry professionals say the trend indicates the region is moving into a more balanced market, not necessarily swinging into a buyer's market.

Multiple offers and quick sales aren't as plentiful as they have been recently, but they still occur with certain properties, brokers say. And median sale prices have increased from a year ago, despite the rising supply of properties.

As of September, 4,971 homes were listed for sale, according to the BNAR, up 12 percent from the year before.

People involved in real estate say there is no single explanation for the rise in active listings after so many years of declines. Some say the springtime flood of sales might have absorbed a chunk of pent-up demand from buyers. And that same flurry of sales might have caused some would-be sellers to price their properties too high, as they tried to capitalize on market conditions.

Annette Fachko, interim executive vice president of the BNAR, said she doesn't believe the higher inventory signals the onset of a buyer's market, which is when buyers hold the upper hand in price negotiations.

The median sale price of homes -- meaning that half the properties sold for more and half sold for less -- has risen from the same month a year ago, even as the supply has grown, she noted. It was $89,650 in September.

The average sale price has also risen over a year earlier while the inventory was climbing, until it dropped in September, to $109,574.

"It's definitely still a seller's market," Fachko said.

And while the inventory is increasing, the total is still far below where it was five or more years ago, she said. In September 1999, there were 6,683 homes on the market, or 26 percent more than this year. And in 1997, the total was well above 8,000 for several months.

As for where the inventory is now, she said: "It's just bringing it up to a normal level."

Through September, home sales were slightly ahead of 2003's record pace, although unit sales in several of the months were lower than they had been the year before.

Karen Udwadia and her husband, Rusi, would love for their Williamsville home to become part of this year's homes-sold statistics. They have been trying to sell their Waterford Park residence for about a year.

"It can be very frustrating," Karen Udwadia said.

The Udwadias weren't in a hurry to move when they put their home on the market; they want to downsize now that their children are grown and out of the house.

But they were told their 29-year-old house needed updating to fit contemporary tastes. They have made extensive changes to the interior, including removing walls to open up more space, raising the ceilings in some parts of the house, removing mirrors and adding more color.

They have also reduced the asking price, from more than $500,000 initially to about $440,000 now. Six months ago they tried changing brokers, switching to Hunt Real Estate Corp.

Karen Udwadia said she thinks it is now a matter of getting more people to walk through and see the improvements. "Now it's at the price it should sell, but only one client has come through," she said. They were scheduled to have two showings Saturday.

The higher inventory would suggest sellers will need to be more patient, since prospective buyers have more properties to choose from.

But Peter Hunt, chief executive officer of Hunt Real Estate Corp., said that generalization doesn't apply to every home on the market. Multiple offers for properties might not be as common these days, he said, but they are still occurring.

"I don't think there's any reason to think the market is going into some kind of slump," Hunt said.

Carole Holcberg said she is still seeing strong demand in the segments her company focuses on, in the city of Buffalo and older homes in Amherst. "If it's a house that has all of the 'I wants,' there are still people looking there," she said.

Properties in the $150,000 to $300,000 price range are difficult to come by, and they still tend to move quickly when they become available, she said.

Holcberg said she also knows of many people who would put their homes on the market if only they could find another home to buy.

The rise in inventory has taken pressure off buyers who would have had to act swiftly at the peak of the seller's market, said Barry Chubb, president of Chubb Real Estate.

"The balancing does help reduce the level of stress and the level of intensity in making the big decisions," he said.

Chubb said he is not concerned that inventory might abruptly rise.

"It's a gradual adjustment," he said. "It's not going to flip overnight to be a buyer's market. We see the slow uptrends and the slow downtrends."

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com

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