DECATUR — Even without surprise early spring snow deluges, the colder months are generally when the real estate market cools off.
But not so much in 2013: latest figures from the Decatur Association of Realtors show home sales in February came in 68, a 15 percent jump over February 2012 with 59 sales. Home sales for January and February 2013 now stand at 150, and that’s up 30 percent over the figures for these months last year.
The average sale price is down, coming in at $72,143 for February 2013 compared to $79,131 a year ago, but the February sales this year spent less time on the market: 128 days versus 140 this time last year.
One strong end of that market, according to Realtors who specialize in it, is the upper bracket of buyers who maybe invest $1 million or more to secure the palace of their dreams. Tom Nolan, managing broker with Nolan & Associates, Ltd., says the presidential election is over and people know what kind of government, what kind of tax structure they can expect to see, and so they’ve been ready to get on with their lives and make big real estate decisions.
“They sit back and go ‘This is the year I want to do X, and this is the year I want to do Y,” he said. “They’re ready; just this last week I packaged a $1 million home to a party who is moving to Decatur in the month of May.”
Nolan said the Decatur area appeals to many upscale buyers because, despite its blue collar image, it has a broad variety of educational and recreational opportunities and offers good value for the well-heeled wallet. And he said when a big-ticket home does find a buyer, the usual hang-ups of arranging financing often don’t apply.
“A lot of people pay cash for these things,” he said. “They don’t get a loan.”
He’s now marketing a $2.8 million home which really is scraping the extreme upper end of Decatur’s house price range, but remains quietly confident. “It’s 11,000 square feet and we’ll definitely find a buyer for it,” added Nolan. “There will be no issue whatsoever.”
The Lincoln area isn’t known for houses quite in that bracket, but it does have some old and modern mansions fetching more than half a million dollars. Realtor Seth Goodman with ME Realty knows all about it because he just sold two such homes, one for $617,500 and the other for $600,000. But Goodman said all areas of the market are strong, with buyers of lesser means anxious to move as rock-bottom interest rates show signs of wanting to tick upwards.
“Those rates are starting to fluctuate a little bit and I think people are concerned, they’re ready,” he added. “I know on Friday I’ve got five closings in our office.”
The going has generally been hardest for first-time buyers everywhere who, since the financial meltdown, are dealing with banks who want 3.5 percent down payments and a rock solid employment and proof of income history.
Help is out there, however. Carol Fritz, a senior mortgage consultant with Wintrust Mortgage in Decatur, said the Illinois Housing Development Authority has a package called SmartMove which offers a loan of $6,000 in down payment and closing costs and fixed rate mortgages about 4 percent for 30 years. And that $6,000 loan is forgivable if you stay in the home for 10 years.
She said SmartMove is aimed at borrowers who can make the mortgage payments but lack the savings for a down payment and costs. “Yeah, it’s pretty popular,” she said. “It’s designed to get first-time buyers into home ownership.”
Fritz has her office within the offices of Brinkoetter & Associates where president Carla Brinkoetter said buyers are taking the plunge.
“2012 was the best year my company has ever had and it has not slowed down,” she said. “We’ve also had one of the best Februarys we ever had and even today (she was speaking the Monday after the big Palm Sunday snowstorm) I’ve got agents out showing houses, believe it or not.”
Not all buyers are shopping for a place to live, however. Glenda Williamson, owner of Glenda Williamson Realty, said there are a lot of renters out there needing somewhere to live and that creates opportunity for potential landlords. “People often don’t think about this, but buying a house and renting it can be a great way to send your kid to college,” she explained. “You buy the house and let the rent income pay for that education.”
Williamson said Decatur has seen a lot of buyers with cash shopping for bargains they can turn into rental income. And housing as an investment looks even more attractive compared to what you might earn parking the same money in a bank. “Buying a house and renting it will give you a lot better cash flow,” she said.
As for the rest of the housing market, the Realtor is looking forward to the summer and, as she also deals with a fair number of up-market homes, she’s relishing the prospect of a Lake Decatur housing market that actually has water in it.
“Our lake has been low the last two years and we’ve had to take our boats out, so nobody was riding around on the lake looking for lake property,” she said. “Now it’s looking really good and that’s very good news; water helps the economy, and the lake homes.”