January 13th, 2012 8:38 AM by Lori Speight
Home sales barely scratched out a gain last year but they nevertheless had their best showing since 2008, according to data released Thursday by the Wilmington Regional Association of Realtors (WRAR).
Sales of homes in the area covered by the WRAR – roughly New Hanover and Pender counties and northern Brunswick County – rose to 4,590 in 2011 from 4,567 in 2010, according to the statistics.
Prices, however, were down to levels not seen since 2004.
The average price of a home sold last year dropped by 4.8 percent, to $219,656 from $230,790 in 2010. The average had been as high as $272,784 in 2007.
The median price – the point at which half of homes sold for less and half for more – fell by 5.7 percent, to $173,063 from $183,512, according to WRAR figures.
Those drops were exacerbated by the plethora of so-called distressed sales, which have comprised as much as 30 percent of all sales in recent years, local real estate experts say. Distressed sales are foreclosures or short sales, the latter when a home is sold for more than is owed on it.
"When the average price comes down, total units (sold) will go up," WRAR President Ashley Garner said Thursday, adding he wasn't surprised by the figures.
"The good news is that housing is more affordable now, which causes more people to enter the market and buy.
"To make the free market work the way it should, prices have to come down in order to make those sales go up," Garner said.
He said prices will continue to fall in 2012 because of the large number of homes on the market.
Prices will continue to fall because of the current amount of inventory.
The most active part of the market is homes priced at $200,000 and under, Garner said, because there are more buyers in that price range.
"But that's not unique to Wilmington," he said, adding that there's always more demand for homes in that range.
By Wayne FaulknerWayne.Faulkner@StarNewsOnline.com