Turnaround seen in real estate market

(Originally published in the Telegraph on 8/3/08)

EDWARDSVILLE - Real estate sales plummeted in counties across Illinois and the nation, but the Madison County market has suffered little in comparison, and local Realtors predict an upcoming turnaround.

Multiple Listing Service statistics indicate a 27 percent decline in total sales in from June 2007 to June 2008 for the state of Illinois, but Madison County has experienced only a 9 percent decrease, said Pat Walker, chairman of the board at the Greater Gateway Association of Realtors.

"We're not exactly setting the world on fire," but Madison County's real estate market has not been hit as badly as Cook or even St. Clair County, said Al Suguitan, president and CEO of the Greater Gateway Association of Realtors.

"Everybody keeps seeing (foreclosures) in the nationwide media," he said. "Yes, we have them. Yes, they are happening. But our foreclosures aren't near what other areas are having across the United States."

Tari Jacobs, president of the Realtors Association of Southwestern Illinois, said St. Clair County's overall sales fell 18.5 percent from June 2007 to June 2008.

The neighboring counties' differing markets may have led to their uneven decline in overall sales.

"St. Clair has predominantly had a lot of new home construction. Madison County has had a burst in probably the past five, six, eight years of new subdivisions, but perhaps not as many as St. Clair County," Suguitan said. "Consequently, when the new home market falls, the percentage is going to be less in Madison County than in St. Clair County."

A recent boost in local sales, as well as a 3.6 percent statewide increase in June, as compared to May, may signal the end of industry stagnation, Walker said.

"There are still buyers out there, and things are selling," she said. "Last week, there were 21 accepted contracts at (Prudential One Realty Centre's Edwardsville office). Everyone in this office seems to have picked up buyers and listings."

"We had a great month in June, in particular," said Julie Lading, vice president of Prudential One Realty Centre. "We've been seeing quite a lot of new construction again, which is a great sign. The agents have been busy. We have a lot of listings and several contracts written, so I'm optimistic about our next couple months."

"Just recently, I've just experienced a huge increase of activity in my listings," said Jenni Beck, a real estate agent at RE/MAX River Bend in Alton. "Two of my listings have received multiple offers after sitting on the market for months with no offers."

Realtors predict the upward trend will continue.

"I think things are really turning around. Buyers stayed back, listened, waited, and now they are just ready to move," Beck said. "They're taking advantage of the low interest rates, and of course, the fact that it's a buyer's market."

A classic case of supply-and-demand economics triggered the recent surge in real estate activity, Beck said.

"There's so much on the market that the sellers are having to get a little more realistic with their listings," she said. "When there weren't as many buyers or listings, there was more of a sense of urgency with the buyers. Now, if they don't like your wall color, they'll look at 10 other listings on the market. (Sellers are) having to make it more appealing to the buyers."

New federal legislation also may aid the real estate market.

"Congress just passed the (Federal Housing Administration) reform, which will bump up the amount of money you can borrow" to buy a home, Walker said. "It increases the FHA lending maximum to $625,000, and it will give first-time buyers a $7,500 tax credit. That certainly doesn't hurt anything."

Those who have not bought a house in three years may qualify as first-time buyers again, Walker said.