The head of the Ohio Association of Realtors says he can see the light at the end of the tunnel after looking at new figures for housing sales.
But the figures through April, released late last week, also show the real estate industry is still in the tunnel.
The Firelands Association of Realtors represents the housing industry in Erie, Huron, Ottawa, Seneca and Sandusky counties.
The new figures show 517 houses were sold in January through April 2009, down 12.8 percent from the 593 homes sold in the first quarter of 2008. The average sale price fell 23.4 percent during the same periods, from $119,9901 to $91,814.
The decline was smaller, however, for April 2009. There were 184 homes sold in the Firelands region in April 2008, compared to 167 in April 2009, a decline of 9.2 percent.
Leonard Partin, president of the Firelands Association of Realtors, broker and co-owner of Jack Bradley Realty in Port Clinton, has been in the real estate business since 1970.
Partin said he's seen good times and bad times, but the current downturn is the worst he's ever witnessed.
Previous downturns usually could be blamed on high interest rates, Partin said. When rates for mortages were 17 percent or 18 percent, real estate professionals knew sales would pick up when the rates went down.
The current downturn is caused by poor consumer confidence and a bad economy, Partin said.
"It's not the interest rates. The interest rates are phenomenal," he said.
Sales also remain down statewide.
Statewide sales for new and existing homes in Ohio totaled 26,838 for the first four months of 2009, down 19.1 percent from the 33,194 sales during the like period a year ago. The average sale price for the first quarter of 2009 was $112,713, down 14.8 percent from the $132,225 average price in 2008.
Jonathan M. Hall, president of the Ohio Association of Realtors, said in a news release he's optimistic things are improving.
"The light at the end of the tunnel is not too far off," he said.
Hall said the $8,000 non-refundable tax credit for first time home buyers, low interest rates, plenty of affordable housing and realistic expectations among buyers and sellers are encouraging people to buy homes.
"The lower-priced properties are selling and the higher-priced properties are not," Partin said.
That suggests many of the purchases are being made by investors who want to upgrade the houses and resell them or who plan to use them as rental properties, he said.
Scott Biechele, past president of the Firelands Association of Realtors, said that while good deals are available, some buyers have unrealistic expectations about the size of the discounts.
That's why it's been taking longer to close deals, he said.
"There's a lot of back and forth," he said.
Biechele said he expects the local market to do reasonably well as the weather warms up.
"I think we're going to have a decent summer," he said. "It's not probably going to be a record-breaker."