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Prices up but Realtors down

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 23, 2014 08:43 AM

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You would think that real estate agents across Massachusetts, especially those working within I-495, would be ready to roll out the champagne right now.

After all, home and condo prices are soaring and, in Greater Boston's more affluent suburbs and city neighborhoods, have already blown past highs set during the bubble years.

But even as home values rise, the confidence level among Realtors across Massachusetts is slipping, according to a new survey by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.

MAR's Realtor Market Confidence Index fell for the second month in a row in December, hitting 52.63 on a scale of 100. Anything above 50 is consider a strong or rising market while below 50 signals a weak or declining market.

The December confidence numbers, in turn, were down 8 percent from December 2012.

You see, while high prices are just fine and dandy. However, if you are in the business of selling real estate, volume is far more important. And, with the number of listings scraping along at historically low levels - down 20 to 30 percent compared to already anemic early 2013 and 2012 levels - there are not enough listings to go around.

Here's an interesting little detail. Asked to sum up the state of the real estate market in a word or two, Realtors polled by MAR labeled 2013 as the year of "no inventory."

"Sellers staying on the sidelines" was the second most popular phrase chosen by the Realtors polled by MAR, followed by the "return of home equity."

As we head into the spring market, we may very well see an uptick in listings. But whether it will be large enough to keep up with demand is another question.

This is not just about a few Realtors bummed out about having fewer homes to sell.

Rather, it points to the top challenge right now for the real estate market in the Boston area, especially for buyers actually hoping to land a home.

Still, the official line is that rising prices will entice more homeowners to list their homes, eventually easing the inventory problem.

"Price increases have helped put equity back into homes, leaving more homeowners in a position to sell and that should help increase inventory and confidence in the market going forward," said MAR President Peter Ruffini, regional vice president at Jack Conway & Co., in a press release.

Sorry, but I am not a Realtor so I am not so professionally optimistic. Anyone thinking of selling a home first has to be confident of finding another one to buy. Many would-be sellers are looking out at a market with too few attractive choices and deciding not to take the plunge.

Meanwhile, new home and condo construction has lagged for years now in Greater Boston, and without a doubling or tripling of activity, we are in for more of the same.

And given that most towns and suburbs see new housing as some sort of existential threat to their "character" and quality of life, it's hard to see that happening.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About boston real estate now
Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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