Thursday, December 30, 2004

Homes boom thunders on: State's up, and Nov. numbers set U.S. record


By Jerry Kronenberg, Boston Herald
Reports of the Bay State housing boom's death are apparently an exaggeration.
Figures released yesterday by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors show that condo and house sales rebounded in November after several months of weakness.
``It's a surge - a definite surge,'' association President Judy Moore said, although she cautioned that gains ``could just be a bit of a blip.''
Meanwhile, the National Association of Realtors reported that total U.S. home sales hit a record 6.94 million-unit rate in November. That's up 13.2 percent from a year earlier.
The group also said the median U.S. home sold for $188,200 last month, up 10.4 percent from November 2003.
David Lereah, the NAR's chief economist, said low mortgage rates combined with a generally expanding U.S. economy and job market to ``create optimal conditions for the housing sector.''
In Massachusetts, condos performed particularly well. The MAR reported that 1,597 condos changed hands last month - the highest November volume ever.
In fact, when compared with November 2003 levels, condo sales rose a whopping 53.6 percent - the second-biggest monthly gain on record.
Median condo prices likewise increased 15.9 percent year over year to hit $263,000.
Among single-family homes, sales gained 17.4 percent from November 2003 levels to reach 4,063, the second-best November showing ever.
Median single-family home prices also rose 14.6 percent from year-earlier levels to reach $345,950.
November's gains represent a turnaround for the market, which hit a soft patch over the summer and fall.
Wellesley College expert Karl Case attributed the rebound to low mortgage rates that continued to offset the state's exorbitant home prices and weak jobs growth.
``The fundamentals of the housing market are that you've got two things working against it and one thing working for it,'' he said.
Case and other experts added that condos showed particular strength because high prices have put single-family homes out of many consumers' reach.
Despite last month's rebound, signs of trouble remain.
For instance, November single-family home sales fell 4.1 percent when compared with October levels.
That's the fifth time in a row that sales have fallen month over month - a string of declines the market hasn't seen in more than four years.
Experts say that whenever the housing boom dies, signs of its demise will include sales that rise year over year but slump month over month.

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