Area real estate sales take hit
Bad news: Housing sales in Union County and Northeast Oregon took a dramatic tumble in the past year.
Good news: the local market still hasn’t plunged to the depths sales have in larger, metropolitan areas.
“Our values haven’t been dropping substantially,” said John Howard, principal broker for John Howard and Associates Real Estate. “It’s nothing like Bend or some areas in California where you had subdivisions leapfrogging out. Our county never got into oversupply. The supply was meeting buyers’ needs, or maybe a little less.”Howard and most other local real estate sales people are struggling with a market that’s been steadily deteriorating since the early part of 2008.
All Northeast Oregon counties are reporting losses. In Union County, sales are down 31 percent. Baker County sales were off 32 percent and Umatilla County 23 percent. Wallowa County is hard hit, with a 36 percent decline.
In Union County in 2007, Realtors sold 395 properties — including residential, multifamily, commercial-industrial, lots and land and farms and ranches — for $124.9 million. In 2008, they sold 264 properties for $86.3 million.
In Wallowa County in 2007, Realtors sold 177 properties for $79.7 million. In 2008, 108 listed units sold for a total of $50.9 million.
Home foreclosures are sharply increasing across the country, and look to be on an upswing in Union County. The problem doesn’t appear to be as severe here as it is in other places, but it’s worse now than it was a year ago.
“We’re seeing a few,” Howard said.
An exact number is difficult to find, but information from The Observer’s files points to an increase, especially in recent times.
Between January 2008 and January 2009, the paper recorded 49 Trustee Notices of Sale. December was the month with the most, with eight such sales advertised.
The Union County Clerk’s Office estimates there were 54 notices of sale in 2008, with 33 of them rescinded before the sale dates, leaving 21 actual foreclosures.
Candy Bowman, a Realtor in Howard’s office, said “short sales” are an option being considered by some homeowners these days as an alternative to foreclosure.
In a short sale, the lender gives a homeowner permission to sell the property for less than what is owed on it.
That money goes toward the note, and usually, arrangements are made to pay off the balance of the loan.
Not everybody will qualify, said Bowman. She added that it is best to allow a Realtor experienced in short sales to do the negotiating.
“You see ads from companies who offer to arrange short sales for fees around $1,000. It’s best to stay away from those,” she said.
Though the present looks gloomy, Howard said he remains upbeat and believes the housing market is coming back.
He said the number of customers coming through his door increased in the last couple of months, always a good sign.
“In January and February it’s been going up. This month we’ve seen a substantial increase in inquiries,” he said. “Business is always slower in the winter. I think we’re going to be busy this spring.”
He said current interest rates of between 4 percent and 5 percent are making things attractive for buyers, and for current homeowners who want to refinance.
“I don’t know if you’ll ever get a better interest rate than what we’re seeing now,” he said.