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Buffalo Niagara home sales edged downward in September

Buffalo area home sales in September once again lagged behind the pace set in 2007, but there are signs of an improving market.

The Buffalo Niagara Realtors Association reported Wednesday that 963 homes were sold last month, down two percent from the 985 residences sold in September 2007. The September year-over-year home sales gap is a big improvement from August, which saw a 10 percent decline from the previous year.

Through the first nine months of 2008, home sales are off by 6 percent, with 7,874 closings through Sept. 30, compared to 8,386 transactions for the same period of '07.

However, average sale prices, dollar volume of sales, and appreciation of residential properties all saw upticks.

"There's no doubt buyer confidence is shaken with all the economic turmoil going on in the U.S., but we're still doing better than most of the country, and there's indication of an uptrend," said BNAR President James Knight.

In September, the average sale price of local homes climbed to $134,879 from $126,450, a seven percent improvement. The total value of home sales rose nine percent from last September, from $124.5 million up to $135.2 million.

Knight said the rise in sales value, despite the drop in units sold, demonstrates the stability of the Buffalo market, and likely indicates buyers are targeting higher quality homes.

"We've debated this topic internally and come to the conclusion that lower-end sales and foreclosure sales are slipping," Knight said. "People are buying median to higher-end homes they will live in, not purchase as low-price investments, and that's a good thing for the market."

While Knight has "a gut feeling" the Buffalo Niagara housing market could be fully back on track by the second quarter of 2009, the U.S. economy's wild ride so far in October doesn't bode well for an immediate sales comeback.

Realty USA President Merle Whitehead has already seen fallout from the national economic upheaval.

"We have had buyers who have called to say 'Hey, we've decided to sit tight for a while.' I don't think it's surprising given Wall Street's extreme swings," Whitehead said.

However, he's not concerned buyers and sellers will stay on the sidelines for long given Buffalo's relatively steady economy.

"I've always always been jealous of real estate people in California and Las Vegas doing big deals for big dollars, but now they're jealous of me," Whitehead said. "Our homes are affordable and holding their values, foreclosure rates are minimal and our employment rates are pretty steady -- all the things that make for a solid housing market."

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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