HANCOCK COUNTY — Winter weather and frigid temperatures have done little to slow Stacy West’s momentum.
West, an agent with Prudential Indiana Realty Group, is finding that even the dead of winter is a good time to be selling houses.
“We are slammed here,” the Greenfield real estate agent said. “It’s crazy busy right now.”
West is just one of many local real estate professionals who have enjoyed the past 12 months in Hancock County.
For the first time since the bottom fell out of the market in 2007, conditions began to line up ideally in the housing market in 2013: Inventories of existing single-family homes were low, sales were up and new housing starts continued to rise.
The Builders Association of Greater Indianapolis reported this week that the central Indiana home-construction industry finished its best year since 2007.
New-home permits were up 34 percent countywide, a number that pleased local officials.
“It’s looking up,” said Joanie Fitzwater, city planning director for the city of Greenfield, where housing starts jumped just under 60 percent over 2012.
The recent numbers are far below those of the peak years of the housing bubble in the early 2000s, but they are encouraging.
The city posted 67 new housing permits in 2013, up from 42 for the prior year, and the strongest finish since 2007, when 155 permits were pulled, city records show.
McCordsville had its best year in terms of new home construction since 2007 as well.
Town manager Tonya Galbraith reported that 108 residential building permits were pulled in the town for 2013, up 42 percent from the year before and far surpassing the slump year of 2008, when the town saw only 32 housing starts.
New-home construction in the rest of the county was up a modest 9 percent, with 2013 seeing 74 permits issued over the 2012 tally of 68.
Officials say they believe the upward trend has the legs to continue.
“Builders appear to be pretty optimistic,” said Fitzwater, who added she would like to see current residential projects built to completion along with the addition of downtown urban multifamily projects.
In McCordsville, Galbraith said two residential projects are moving toward completion with new business slated to move in as well.
“We think that building permits will continue to be strong in 2014,” Galbraith wrote in an email. “The final sections are getting ready to build out in Deer Crossing and Emerald Springs, and a new section has opened in the Villages at Brookside.
“We also have a micro-brewery starting in a few months, and Daniels Vineyard has plans to develop a winery and brewery soon,” she wrote.
The existing market fared well for 2013 as well, with Hancock County closed sales of 1,052, up 19 percent from 2012, West said.
Reports show the year finished well despite a drop-off during the last few months of the year, when declining new listings began to indicate the tightening inventory.
In Hancock County, single-family inventories dropped to just under a five-month supply, according to the latest report from the Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors – a 22.5 percent reduction from the same time a year earlier.
F.C. Tucker Co. reported that the tightening inventory on the year and stronger economy pushed the average sale price of a Hancock County home up 7 percent over 2012 to $151,885.
“It’s getting back to a sellers’ market,” West said.
Numbers continue to show sellers receiving 92 percent of their asking price, not accounting for seller concessions, and Dee Dee Richards of D.R. Indy Realty said as long as homes are “priced realistically,” there’s no present reason to believe that trend will change soon.
“Prices are fairly stable now, and a house that’s priced well and qualified doesn’t stay on the market long,” she said.
Richards said the metropolitan counties seem to be performing better than elsewhere in the state, and as long as the jobs sector remains stable, 2014 should follow the established trends.
“As long as employment doesn’t drop, we should be fine,” Richards said.
In addition to first-time buyers jumping into the market, Richards said many Hoosiers who might have been overextended and lost their homes to foreclosure during the recession have now had several years to rebuild their credit and are re-entering the market, albeit with a more realistic attitude.
“I think they’re a little bit more aware of their own financial situation and what payments they can afford,” she said.
The housing bust of 2007 was a “wake up, America” reality check that ended the days of paying too much for too little with payments that were too high, Richards said.
West, too, believes money will remain in the market even though interests rates have risen from a low last May of 3.3 percent on a 30-year, fixed mortgage.
“They are certainly higher than they were, but in the larger scheme of things, interest rates are still very good,” she said.
Friday, the interest rate on a 30-year fixed conventional mortgage was hovering near 4.5 percent, according to Bankrate.com.
Rates might continue to climb in the near term with the Federal Reserve’s recent signal that it will stop buying mortgages by the end of March, said Mark Griffin, Greenfield Banking Co. vice president and loan officer.
“I think it’s going to be another good year, though interest rates are very likely to climb,” Griffin said.
Rising rates, however, might be a stimulant to another sector of the economy, Griffin said.
For those homeowners who locked in to a historically low interest rate, employing contractors and craftsmen for additions and other improvements to their existing home might be the better alternative financially than purchasing a new house, he said.
Where interest rates are not a crucial factor, however, local Realtors say now is a good time to consider entering the market.
Though perhaps counterintuitive, snagging a willing purchaser can sometimes be easier in winter.
During spring and summer months, there’s a fine line between serious house hunting and the recreational activity of house looking, Richards said.
“But if someone is coming out to look at your house in this weather, they have a real interest in truly buying.
“If people want to sell, now is the time. This is a seller’s market, and we need more houses,” she said.