Local home sales finished the year with a flourish, but the local housing market failed to set a record for the first time in four years during 2006.
Local housing prices, however, sagged during December, capping a year that saw sale prices fail to keep pace with inflation but avoid the outright price declines in some of the nation's most expensive markets.
With the October storm delaying some home sales into late winter, December sales jumped by 14 percent to 592, which was the highest in more than 11 years, the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors reported Tuesday.
At the same time, housing prices in the eight counties of Western New York remained weak, with the median price of the homes that sold during December slipping by 4 percent to $88,250, ending the year with two straight months of declining prices.
Still, the Buffalo Niagara housing market enjoyed a relatively robust year, by local standards. The median price over the entire year inched up by 2.4 percent to an all-time high of $97,775, while home sales fell just shy of setting a record for the fourth straight year, sliding by 1.4 percent to 10,336 from a record 10,482 in 2005.
"I don't think I'd call it a seller's market. I wouldn't describe this as a buyer's market, except in pockets," said Peter F. Hunt, the president of Hunt Real Estate Corp. "I would say it's pretty balanced."
The October storm, which brought most of the Erie County real estate market to a halt for several weeks, contributed to the flurry of December sales by pushing some transactions even later into 2006, Hunt said. He also thinks it could contribute to a burst of activity this spring from would-be buyers at the time of the storm, who have decided to wait until the traditional home-selling season begins again.
"There were buyers who wanted to buy and they haven't gone away," he said. "They'll still buy sooner or later."
Those buyers will have plenty to choose from. The number of homes on the market rose by 8 percent last year and left slightly less than a six-month supply of homes for sale heading into 2007, the realtors group said. In contrast, the local market had a five-month supply of homes in 2003 and 2004, when home prices rose by roughly double the 2006 pace.
"It would concern me more if we weren't seeing fairly normal and active buyer interest," Hunt said.