November 18, 2010

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Head Realtor
A broad view of the housing market
By Jeff Mucciarone jmucciarone@hippopress.com

The housing market in New Hampshire has dipped since the expiration of the home buyer tax credit in April. Still, Monika McGillicuddy, president of the New Hampshire Association of Realtors, sees good signs, especially for buyers, with low prices and low interest rates.

Q:What are you seeing out there?
Itís been a very interesting year, to say the least. I consider it a transitional type of year.... A lot of realtors are reporting that theyíre actually busy. Buyers are back looking. íCourse this all has to [translate] into sales.... Itís too early to tell.

The home buyer tax credit, whatís the impact of that been in New Hampshire?
I think the tax credit definitely served us well .... It certainly did spur on the housing market. ... the last three months the numbers have been down and thatís a direct ramification of the expiration of the housing tax credit. What happens is ó the end of April was the expiration date. You had to have a property and a contract by the end of April to qualify for the tax credit. ... Then May came and people sat back and wondered: will this be extended again? And they waited, so there was a lack of activity in May. ... Buyers, they took wait-and-see attitudes. Then the tax credit was not extended, so buyers slowly came back in. It takes eight weeks to 12 weeks now to close on a property. So if people are looking in June and July, weíre not seeing that number until three months later. We track sold sales only. So pending sales, we donít track them. ... So the lack of activity in May, thatís reflected in the lack of sales closed in July and August.

[Nothing is settled yet in the market.]
I want to stress the positive side of this. ... weíre still going through a transitional period in New Hampshire. I wish we had a crystal ball and I wish we could predict the future, but we canít. We do know there remain options for many people who still want to own a home. ... Credit is very important. Itís a great opportunity ... and with interest rates so low, I strongly recommend talking to a local realtor and exploring options.

Whatís it been like as far as new home building goes?
There are still new construction homes being built. While itís slower than it was in its hey-day, there is still new construction happening. Thereís a lot less speculation in building, for sure, more custom-type building. The prices are really fantastic. Theyíre extremely low. For the buyer, coupled with low interest rates, itís the perfect time to buy. For buyers with good credit, there is mortgage money available.

What about getting credit? How difficult is that?
Most lenders I work with ... certainly theyíre very strict. ... Yes, itís taking longer, especially the appraisal process, and thatís a reflection of ... how thorough they are.... Iíve never seen rates this low and Iíve been doing this for 25 years. And they still keep going down.

Sounds like itís still very much a buyerís market?
Definitely, itís still a buyerís market. July and August sales, September and October, were lower than we hoped theyíd be. Weíve had three months of decline.... We canít call it a trend ... though. Last November, we had a huge 70-percent increase. ... Once we get the October numbers, if the decline is not as dramatic, if we see the gap narrowing, then thatís a good thing. Buyers are looking right now. I think a lot is in play. New Hampshire is a very desirable place to live. Unemployment is a lot lower than the rest of the country. Itís a desirable place. It has a lot to offer people.

You mentioned the different markets in the state. What are you seeing on that level?
Portsmouth, for example, thereís a lot of real estate in that area. Itís very busy. ... There are certain parts of the Lakes Region that had a busy summer. Real estate really is local. Even within Rockingham County, my Hampstead market, compared to Portsmouth, is a very different local market. Thatís why itís always best to work with a local realtor, because thatís the person who has their finger on the pulse of the community and the market values of the homes in the area.
óJeff Mucciarone