BARBARA PEARCE – Houses staying on market

Home sales continue to fall as the long-predicted end to the housing boom takes hold, but median home prices across Connecticut – and particularly in New Haven County – are still going up at double-digit rates. That will not last long, however, according to some experts.

“People perceived [New Haven County] as a hot market [and priced their homes high],” said Barbara Pearce, president and chief executive officer of North Haven-based H. Pearce Real Estate Co.

According to statistics from The Warren Group, parent company of The Commercial Record, sales of single-family homes in New Haven County during the first quarter of this year dropped 18 percent from the first quarter of 2005. Last year, 1,911 homes were sold in that three-month time period, and this year 1,559 were sold.

Meanwhile, the median price increased almost 12 percent from the first quarter of last year to the first of this year. The median price in the first quarter of 2005 was $211,200, while the median price in the first three months of 2006 was $236,000.

According to Pearce, the phenomena are related. Sellers were pricing high earlier this year, but as homes are staying on the market longer, the prices have started dropping recently. H. Pearce recorded homes staying on the market during the first quarter from 46 to 131 days.

“They’re definitely staying on the market longer,” Pearce said.

Frank D’Ostilio, New Haven County regional vice president for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, also has noticed homes staying on the market longer. Citing statistics from the Greater New Haven Association of Realtors, he said, “There’s more inventory at this time than there was at this time last year.”

With more homes to view, the properties are staying on the market longer, he said.

Fairfield County saw similar numbers in the first quarter. The median sales price rose 10 percent from $479,700 last year to $529,000 this year, but the number of sales dropped 14 percent from 2,177 in the first quarter of 2005 to 1,864 in the first quarter of this year.

Statewide, the numbers were slightly less dramatic. The median sales price of single-family homes rose 8 percent from $250,000 to $269,000, while the number of sales dropped 12 percent, from 8,079 to 7,127.

Hartford County saw more steady numbers. The median price rose 4 percent, from $211,750 to $221,000, while the number of sales dropped 7 percent from 502 to 475.

Pearce said she expects that prices will stop rising during the rest of 2006. The number of homes sold will likely decrease even more. The well-stocked market has already satisfied the demand of most buyers, Pearce said, and the pool of potential homebuyers has grown smaller.

‘Sharpening Their Skills’

According to D’Ostilio, pricing trends vary from house to house. He said he is still hearing stories of multiple offers on desirable homes, but much depends on how appropriately the home is priced.

D’Ostilio added that he hopes the downward trend may be reversing itself somewhat.

“The bright spot is … the unit sales were down month-to-month, but in March they were up 20 percent,” he said, citing statistics from the Greater New Haven Association of Realtors.

The trend has taken something of a toll on Realtors themselves, according to Pearce.

“I’ve heard that some are leaving the industry,” she noted.

That may be good news for those who plan on staying, but competition is fiercer these days. Pearce pointed to marketing tools used by her company – a television show featuring homes on the market, fliers sent via e-mail, online guided tours – and to its other offerings – such as services specifically geared to seniors, as well as the company’s relocation services – as part of the reason H. Pearce has stayed competitive.

“[Realtors need] more marketing, [and] better places to market,” she said.

At Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, the company is taking advantage of the relative quiet in the market as a time to further educate its Realtors, many of whom are focusing on their negotiating methods.

“They’re sharpening their skills,” D’Ostilio said.