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AREA HOME SALES DECLINE AFTER THREE-MONTH RISE

Erie County's three-month run of having existing home sales top year-ago figures came to an end in November.

For the first time since July, total sales last month failed to top the same month in 1996, while single-family home sales missed the mark for the first time since June, Greater Buffalo Association of Realtors figures show.

The realtors' monthly survey found 476 single-family, cooperative and condominium sales were recorded countywide, down one unit or 0.2 percent from November 1996's 477. The figure also was off 202 units or 29.8 percent from October's 678.

Looking specifically at single-family home sales, the association found 440 homes sold in November, off 13 units or 2.9 percent from 453 one year ago. The total was down 196 homes or 30.8 percent from October's 636.

November's total unit and single-family home sales figures also failed to match five-year running averages, with total sales down 43 units or 8.3 percent from 519, and single-family sales off 46 units or 9.5 percent from the 1992-96 average.

The downturn surprised the realtors group. Daniel Symoniak, association executive vice president, said, "I actually was looking for the sales figures to be up. After the numbers for August, September and October, I thought we had a trend going."

Symoniak said he was hard-pressed to come up with a reason for the slight slump, especially since interest rates continue to tread water at or near the lowest mark in about two years.

The overall median price also fell in November, off $2,000 or 2.4 percent to $80,000 from November 1996's $82,000.

In fact, the median price for three of four sales categories tumbled last month, led by a $12,150 or 20.2 percent drop in the price of two-bedroom units, to $47,850 from $60,000 one year ago.

The median price of condos and co-ops dropped $5,502 or 6.2 percent to $83,500 from $89,002, while the median price of three-bedroom units fell $2,000 or 2.5 percent to $78,000 from $80,000 one year ago.

The lone median-price increase was in the four-plus-bedroom sales category, up $7,000 or 6.6 percent to $113,250 from $106,250.

The average price for all sales climbed 1 percent to $94,424 from $93,512. Average prices also increased for four-plus-bedroom units, up $11,363 or 9 percent to $137,950 from $126,587; and for condos/co-ops, up $8,108 or 8.8 percent to $99,661 from $91,553.

The average for two-bedroom homes fell $4,689 or 7.6 percent to $56,964 from $61,653, while three-bedroom units dropped $530 or 0.6 percent to $82,680 from 83,210.

Three-bedroom units remain the home size of choice throughout Erie County, capturing 55 percent of total sales in November.

Lower-end sales continue to keep the local market afloat, with 288 sales, 60.5 percent of total sales, priced under $90,000. At the other end of the price scale, just 13 units, 2.7 percent of total sales, sold for $250,000 or more.

The number of homes available on the multiple-listing service continued to fall in November, to 7,285 from 7,711 in October, a 5.5 percent drop. The November multiple-listing service total was up 413 or 6 percent from November 1996's 6,872.

"It's the seasonal fall," Symoniak said of the drop in available listings. "It's falling pretty much the way it did last year at this time, and I would expect the number to again fall in December before picking up again in January."

At the November rate of absorption, the market has a 15.3-month supply of homes, with six months considered optimum.

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