BARBARA PEARCE – A sigh of relief

The downturn in Connecticut’s housing market dominated headlines and real estate agents’ thoughts this year, but most are happy that it turned out to be a soft landing rather than the oft-predicted bursting of the housing bubble.

“This is the year when the slowdown really took hold in Connecticut,” said John Clapp, professor of real estate and finance at the University of Connecticut.

The third quarter of the year found home sales falling – dramatically in some places. Through September of this year, single-family home sales fell by more than 15 percent across the state compared with the pace of sales in the first three quarters of 2005, according to statistics from The Warren Group, publisher of The Commercial Record. The biggest drops came in Fairfield County, where there were more than 2,000 fewer sales by the end of September 2006 than there were at the end of September 2005, a decrease of almost 23 percent.

Prices have remained more stable, however. In most places they have flattened, with some counties seeing increases of less than 1 percent, a far cry from the double-digit increases of the past few years. But real estate agents breathed a sigh of relief after years of back and forth about whether the burgeoning market was turning into a bubble that would burst, causing prices to fall, said Barbara Pearce, president and chief executive officer of North Haven-based H. Pearce Real Estate Co.

Still, it is not all good news. According to Clapp, who adds value to statistics by taking into account historical and seasonal data, some metropolitan areas, like Stamford, are seeing price declines.

“[This year] represents a very significant change in the housing market,” he said. Real estate agents, he added, have seen homes staying on the market longer and inventory growing.

MLS Formed

This year also saw the formation of a long-awaited statewide multiple listing service. The idea had been discussed for 20-plus years, but with the technology available today, organizers decided to make it a reality. The Connecticut Association of Realtors’ board of directors over the summer approved the creation of a system that will consolidate most of the state’s 10 regional and local multiple listing services into one.

“The statewide MLS has been discussed forever,” said Robert Kennedy, executive officer of CAR, after the vote.

But there have been enough changes in the market and advances in technology to make a statewide MLS a viable option now. Massachusetts and Rhode Island both have the statewide services.

“The market wasn’t quite there [in the 1980s],” Kennedy said. “Technology wasn’t quite there.”

The service is expected to launch in January. Its board of directors has chosen a location for the service’s office in North Haven, and has hired a chief executive officer and the first staff member. Cameron Paine, former chief operating officer of the Bonita Springs-Estero Association of Realtors in Florida, took the reins as the chief executive officer of the Connecticut MLS recently. The board also put out ads for more staff people.

“All the details are coming very fast,” said Jerry Alaimo, president of the Connecticut MLS, who is also president of Century 21 Alaimo & Corrado in Enfield.

The statewide MLS, which is slated to begin operating on Jan. 10, will incorporate six of the 10 MLS networks that are currently operating in the state. The Eastern Connecticut MLS and the Hartford, New Haven, Midd-Shore, Waterbury and Litchfield multiple listing services, which were already in a cooperative, will join when the statewide MLS launches.

But the four remaining multiple listing services in the state – all of which are in Fairfield County – have not committed.

“They’ve taken a watch-and-see approach,” Alaimo said.

This year held good news for the housing market in Bridgeport: The city made CNN’s and Money magazine’s latest national list of top 10 places to buy a home. The publication named 10 cities that could offer good opportunities despite the overall decline in the real estate market. The list’s entry for Bridgeport cited the spread of wealth throughout Fairfield County, and noted that as more businesses have left New York for Greenwich and Stamford, more middle-class workers have arrived in the city, looking to take advantage of Bridgeport’s relatively low prices.