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Area home sales decline as prices, pending deals rise

Home sales in Western New York tumbled again in November. But prices rose, and signs point to a pickup in activity in coming months.

Sales of homes, condos and townhouses fell 26 percent to 647 in November from 880 a year earlier, according to figures released by the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors. That's the lowest level for the month since 2005.

Sales, which typically decline as winter approaches, also were down 8 percent from October, when 703 transactions closed, the group said.

But pending sales, awaiting closing after a contract has been signed, jumped 29 percent from a year ago, from 425 to 550, the highest level for November in three years.

That, however, was down 17 percent from 661 in October and marked the lowest point of any month so far this year.

"I believe we have bottomed out on our close, and it should get a little better," said Philip L. Aquila Jr., president of the regional Multiple Listing Service and general manager of M.J. Peterson Corp.'s residential real estate offices.

"So we're looking for a better 2011. We're not looking for a dynamite 2011. We're not going to set the world on fire, but we're not going to go backwards in 2011."

December figures will not be released until early next month, but Aquila said closings were "very good and very busy," citing the rush by attorneys and homeowners to close deals by year end for tax purposes. But pending sales for the month are "a little slow," he said.

The realtors group reports delayed monthly sales figures for the eight counties of Western New York, based on transactions by its members through the Multiple Listing Service, known formally as the Western New York Real Estate Information Service. The figures do not include sales that don't go through realtors, such as direct sales by owners.

But according to the group's website, they now include some sales that occurred in Livingston and Monroe counties in the Rochester market because three smaller multiple listing systems -- Niagara Falls, Cattaraugus County and Genesee County -- merged with the larger Western New York entity in the past year. The three had some sales in the Rochester-area counties. Prior-period data has not been restated, so year-to-year comparisons are slightly skewed.

The average sales price for November rose 9 percent from $125,427 a year earlier to $136,866, a record for the month but down 4 percent from $142,269 in October. The median price rose 3 percent from $112,500 a year earlier to $116,000, also a record for the month, but down 6 percent from $124,000 in October. Median means half the sales were higher and half were lower.

Total dollar volume of closed sales declined by 5 percent to $88.55 million from $93.32 million in November 2009, as the drop in deals outweighed the higher sale prices. Volume was down 11 percent from $100 million in October.

Active listings on the market rose 6 percent to 5,163 from 4,893, but were down 11 percent from 5,776 in October. New listings rose 4 percent to 1,031 from 994, but were down 22 percent from 1,326 in October.

Aquila blamed the lower sales on a combination of the national economy and the expiration of the federal homebuyer tax credits in April.

Those credits, introduced in early 2009 and offering as much as $8,000 to first-time buyers and $6,500 to "move-up" buyers, led to an unusual surge in sales in 2009 and into the first few months of last year, essentially "front-loading" the sales.

Now that the credit has expired, activity has dropped substantially, in part because many homeowners who might have waited to buy a home rushed to act earlier and aren't looking now.

"It really has been very quiet since May," Aquila said.

e-mail: jepstein@buffnews.com

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