By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
— After several years of a depressed market, things are finally looking up for local real estate agents and home sellers.
In north Jefferson and south Blount counties, the number of homes sold, average and median prices, are all trending upward. Numbers released by the Birmingham Association of Realtors for the northern region — all of the North Jefferson News coverage area except for Pinson, plus Blountsville and Blount Springs — show most numbers for the area on the rise.
In February, the average sales price for the region was $127,411, and the median was $124,000. That’s down a bit over the same month in 2012, but that’s a bit of an aberration — most other months were significantly higher than their year-prior numbers.
“Sales have definitely picked up in north Jefferson County, and I’m so excited,” said Denise Hays, a realtor with Re/Max Northern Properties in Gardendale. “On average, in the past two or three years an agent would close two or three homes a month, but now it’s four or five.”
Cindy Dodd of Keller Williams Realty in Gardendale agreed. “They’re much better. I had a property the other day where three offers came at one time, and we haven’t seen that in a long time. People are not just looking anymore — they’re starting to buy. And if the property is priced right, we’re looking at multiple offers.”
For Faith Harper of Realty South in Gardendale, it’s a welcome sign. “Overall, we have experienced a bit of a bump in traffic and activity, and I think you can see a sigh of relief across every realtor’s face,” she said.
It’s a far cry from when the housing market bottomed out a few years ago because of the sub-prime mortgage collapse. A glut of foreclosed properties and other owners forced to sell brought in low offers. Those lowball offers still come, but the eventual sales prices now come much closer to the asking price.
“Prices are inching their way up. They’re not as good as they were in the prime time, but they are much better than they were 24 months ago,” Dodd said. “They’re up at least 25 percent in our area from the bottom.”
Gardendale, Morris and Kimberly are faring best in sales, with Fultondale close behind, all three realtors said. Rural areas such as Corner are lagging a bit.
Interest rates also remain at rock-bottom rates, around 3.5 percent. The downside is that credit scores now have to be much higher, with scores of 640 as a bare minimum. Mortgages with 100 percent financing are few and far between as well — the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers one for homes in designated rural areas, and Harper said that BB&T Bank has a 100-percent program for those with scores of 680 or higher.
“I’m telling my sellers that the buyer pool is kind of shrinking. You need to have good credit scores, and you need a little money in your pocket [for a down payment] to get a house here,” Harper said.