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Buffalo Niagara home sales set records in 2015

It’s confirmed: 2015 was one for the record books for the area’s housing market.

Final numbers show the continuation of low interest rates and renewed consumer confidence in the region led to new benchmarks for home sales in Western New York, according to new data from the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors.

Prices also rose modestly, continuing a nearly unbroken upward trend.

Realtors have been reporting strong home sales all year, particularly in popular and “emerging” neighborhoods of Buffalo, as well as trendier suburban towns and villages. “We had an amazing year,” said Miriam Treger, a real estate agent and office manager for RealtyUSA.

Brokers say homes have been selling almost as soon as they’re listed in many cases, with heavy traffic coming through open houses, followed by multiple offers that often meet or top asking prices. In turn, they say that’s causing buyers to rethink their strategies, bidding more aggressively and faster, while also looking further afield to streets and neighborhoods that they wouldn’t have considered in the past.

“2015 was our best year in 104 years of continuous operation as a family-owned business,” said Peter Hunt, chief executive officer of Hunt Real Estate ERA, where business was up by more than 10 percent.

The full-year data speaks for itself.

• Prices rose a modest 2.1 percent, marking the 14th annual increase in the last 15 years. The only exception was in 2014, when prices were flat as the harshest winter in years restrained sales.

The region’s average price of $149,497, and median price of $124,953, both were up 2 percent for the year. December prices were also the highest ever for that month, with an average of $148,371 and a median of $127,000.

• The number of homes sold rose 9.1 percent. Closed sales rose to 11,428, the highest since at least 2000, based on BNAR records that have tracked the data since then. That’s nearly 300 more closings than the next best year, 2007.

• Pending sales rose 15 percent to a new record of 12,109 for the 12-month period. That’s more than 1,400 contracts higher than the previous record, also set in 2007.

And December’s figure of 633 pendings, up 22 percent from the prior December, was the highest on record for the final month of the year.

“Last year was a record year for us, not only in the number of transactions completed, but also in the volume sold,” said Dana M. David, a real estate agent at RealtyUSA. “2016 is shaping up to be the same. The phone has been ringing off the hook.”

The fast-paced market proved a challenge for homebuyers like Bob and Devon Little, two lawyers from New York City who wanted to buy a duplex in Buffalo, both for investment and potentially later for themselves.

Bob Little grew up in Buffalo before leaving for law school, where he met Devon, who is from Los Angeles but has family in Hamilton, Ont. The couple made frequent trips to Buffalo over the summer, and decided in August to buy a property in the city.

But they were startled when it took almost four months to get a contract, after losing two houses to all-cash bids and another because the seller’s expectations were “insane,” Devon said.

“I was surprised how fast things were going and for all cash,” she said. “Renting an apartment in New York City, things go quickly, so you have to act fast. I was surprised that that was the same way.”

They finally closed on a West Delavan Avenue duplex, between Richmond Avenue and Baynes, in late December for $205,000 – and only after fending off multiple rivals.

Listings rose

The strong sales and continued low rates encouraged more homeowners to see how much their own homes would fetch. As a result, 18,565 homes were newly listed for sale throughout 2015. That’s a 9 percent increase over 2014, and the third-highest in the last 16 years after the housing boom of 2006-2007.

“From what we are seeing, it is continuing into 2016 because of both low inventory and continued strong demand,” said Jean-Michel Reed, an agent at Gurney Becker & Bourne.

“The cultural shift which is driving urban growth all over the country is continuing and this is not going to change in the near future.”

To be sure, not all neighborhoods and communities are seeing the same boom, and successful sales still depend on location, price, age and condition of a home, among other factors. Some houses still linger for weeks or even months without being sold, and the owners eventually get discouraged and take them off the market.

Inventory slips

The removed listings combined with hectic sales meant that the inventory of all homes on the market didn’t keep pace. For all of 2015, the average inventory fell 4 percent to 4,980, and dropped 12.1 percent at the end of December from a year earlier, to 4,199 – the lowest since 2004.

“We are seeing a low inventory of homes, with lots of showings,” said Jed Carroll, owner and president of J. Lawrence Realty, which did more than $50 million in sales volume last year – $13.5 million from just one agent, Laura A. Giuseppetti. “It appears, right now, that it will continue to be a robust market in 2016.”

Recovering market

Although prices are rising, not every sale produces a record-high price, agents cautioned. “There’s a lot of excitement and criticism out there right now about city prices, but I think what people don’t recognize is that Buffalo was quite simply depressed, and much of what we are seeing is a correction,” Reed said. “I think buyers need to remain realistic about the market – you are not going to get a house as soon as you decide to start looking – and sellers need to be realistic on pricing.”

“The one downside to the current market is greed,” he said. “We all see houses sitting on the market even today, and that is 100 percent of the time (because of) price.”

BNAR reports arms-length home sales transactions for its members in the eight-county Western New York area, along with a few sales in Monroe and Livingston counties.