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Number of Arizona home sales slows, but value of sales has risen

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WASHINGTON – The value of home sales in Western states rose over the last year even as the number of transactions slipped, according to an official with the National Association of Realtors.

Walter Molony, the economic issues media manager for the association, said numbers show that foreclosed and distressed properties are being moved off the market and lower home inventory is helping boost prices.

Where places elsewhere in the country are still seeing growth in the number of homes sold, Arizona is instead experiencing increased property value, he said. He was speaking in response to this week’s release of new national sales numbers from the association.

“You’ve got a pretty decent volume of activity,” he said. “Sales have been pretty strong in Arizona, broadly speaking.”

Arizona real-estate agents agreed with Molony and, with interest rates still low, they called it a “seller wins, buyer wins” market.

“The market has really taken off, to the point where there is very little home inventory,” said Scottsdale agent Dean Benigno.

The drop in inventory has led some owners to hold on to property longer in hopes it will gain value, increasing competition for buyers, he said.

“The challenging thing for us Realtors right now is finding the right home for snowbirds while they are in town,” Benigno said. “If it’s good inventory, it will sell quickly.”

Rick Oland, the property information manager for the Arizona Department of Revenue, said Phoenix-area properties have increased about 10 to 15 percent in value during the past year.

“The demand is higher and the supply of ready move-in homes is kind of low right now,” Oland said.

The association report did not break out individual state numbers, but said that number of primary homes sold nationally rose 17.4 percent and vacation homes rose 10.1 percent  between 2011 and 2012.

That’s good news for sellers. But a report from Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business said the median price for single-family homes in the greater Phoenix area rose 36.5 percent from last year, making it a tough market for first-time buyers.

“The situation is not so great if you are trying to buy a house at the moment,” said economist Michael Orr, author of the report. “If you find a house you like, there is a strong chance you won’t get it because someone will outbid you.”

Still, increased property values are a bright sign, Orr said.

“The housing market is a big reason the economy crashed in the first place. Its returning is a good thing,” he said.

The housing market is recovering nationally, but several states are still behind Arizona, which was one of the first states hit hard by the recession. Economic shifts felt elsewhere tend to have “an exaggerated effect” in Arizona, Orr said.

Connie Collette, owner of Queens Real Estate, said the company saw sales drop about 50 percent from roughly 2006 to  2009. But during this year and last, sales and values have gone up, she said, noting that all of her vacation rentals are 100 percent booked for this year and next.

Orr said he hopes the trend of high property value continues, but also hopes it continues to feed other areas of the economy.

“When people feel the value of their homes are increasing, it makes them feel more confident,” Orr said.

Confidence is important with the burst housing bubble still fresh in peoples’ minds, he said. But another housing-driven economic boom is not likely, “as long as we don’t let it run out of control again,” Orr said.

“That rarely happens, and that is unlikely to happen again in the foreseeable future,” he said. “That’s probably not something we will be subject to again in the next 20 years, not until all the people who remember it have died out.”