Unemployment is high. Stock markets are slumping. Economic uncertainty is spreading. But the story of home sales is mostly upbeat.
Alameda County home sales in June were up 2.6 percent over the same period last year, based on statistics compiled by DataQuick Information Services, a real-estate monitoring service. The average selling price also increased 2.6 percent, according to DataQuick.
“We think this is really a good time to put a home on the market,” said Ira Serkes, a 25-year veteran broker at RE/MAX Bay Area in Berkeley. Although year-to-date volume of home sales in Berkeley was down between 3 percent and 4 percent, total dollar sales from January to early August nearly matched sales in all of 2001, Serkes said.
The number of homes sold had been dropping for three years, Serkes said, mostly because competitive bidding had driven prices. This year, even if transactions through December remain flat, the activity so far signals a stabilizing trend.
As of mid-July, since Jan. 1, 259 homes in Berkeley changed hands. At $579,000, the average price of a Berkeley home keeps edging upward.
Despite higher prices Jeanine Weller, a broker with Pacific Union Real Estate in Oakland, has seen more volatility in Berkeley's housing market in recent months. Some properties get few bids and some stay on the market longer than they would have in the past.
Why some homes are receiving fewer bids is not apparent, Weller said.
“It doesn't seem to be price-related,” Weller said. “Sellers are still expecting top-dollar, and they're still getting it consistently enough.”
She added that she would have expected more activity given the current low interest rates.
Serkes, author of “How to Buy a House in California,” says different kinds of buyers and sellers are now entering the market. A couple of years ago, amid the dot-com boom, the market was flooded with buyers relocating from other areas, many from outside the state.
The torrid market left little room for local residents who wanted to upgrade to a larger house. Some homeowners, Serkes said, were hesitant to sell for fear of not being able to find another house once theirs was sold.
With less migration to the area, Serkes believes the market is showing the more stable patterns of established residents buying locally.
July and August are traditionally sleepy months for home sales, and brokers say fall holds the key as to whether the market will continue its stable course. Brokers normally look forward to the seasonal upturn after Labor Day, when buyers and sellers return to the market. September and October typically account for a large share of the year's sales.