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South Jersey homes selling despite recovery ups, downs

A recovering economy and still-low mortgage interest rates have the residential real estate market moving at a steady pace, if not thriving, for much of the region. Prices have increased in some areas and fallen again in others.

Carlo Losco, owner and president of Balsley Losco Real Estate, said home prices have stabilized or increased in the sub-$500,000 range on the Atlantic County mainland, where most of the homes his company lists are located. He said this is because there is now a relative shortage in that range of saleable homes, or owner-sold homes not in default and not in need of major renovations.

“We find that they are holding their prices, and we have definitely seen a solidification — if not an increase — in the willingness of people to pay more than they were one or two years ago,” he said. “I believe that is going to continue.”

Losco said things aren’t so rosy for homes on the upper end of the spectrum. Homes priced at $1 million and above have yet to recover fully from the 2006 burst of the housing bubble, he said, but things are trending toward stabilization or price gains across the board.

While his company sells relatively few homes on the islands, Losco said, the supply of saleable homes there is likewise limited, especially on Absecon Island and in Ocean City. This, coupled with a post-recession increase in assets for the second homeowners who drive much of the island market, have meant brisk business there as well.

Linda Magarick, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, said it’s a buyer’s market on Absecon Island, where she sees the bulk of her sales. Homes prices on the island have dropped in all ranges, leading to steady sales to those looking for second homes.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand for real estate after Sandy,” she said. “Now they’re really ready to come in, and they’re more comfortable with their incomes, and they’re ready to buy a second home.”

Magarick said the low prices mean good opportunities for homeowners looking to trade up.

Keller Williams realty agent Tracy Neri said sales volume has increased lately in North Wildwood, where the bulk of her homes are listed.

“It seems like, all of a sudden, people are purchasing more than they had recently,” she said.

Homes aren’t moving quite as fast offshore in Cape May County, but the market has been consistent. Diane Walker, of Coldwell Banker James C. Otton Real Estate in Cape May Court House, said she sold about 170 homes both last year and the year before.

She said home prices are close to or a hair lower than where they were a year ago, when her average Middle Township single-family home sold for just under $200,000. It’s too early to get a bead on sales volume just two months into the year, Walker said, but she hopes for a busy spring.

“I’m optimistic about the spring,” she said. “The prices, the interest rates are still low. It’s encouraging buyers to come out and get a deal.”

On Tuesday, the Federal Housing Finance Agency reported that home prices in the region were mixed for the fourth quarter and all of 2013.

Cape May County home prices rose 4.7 percent in the fourth quarter, leaving them up 0.3 percent for the year.

Atlantic County home prices fell 2.5 percent in the quarter and were down 1.8 percent for the year. In Cumberland County, where only annual data is available, home prices were 0.8 percent lower at the end of 2013 than a year ago.

FHFA tracks same-home sales using Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac data, considering purchases and refinancings in the region.

Nationwide, prices of homes that sold increased 7.7 percent for 2013.

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