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East Texas home sales gain ground

By Mike Elswick melswick@news-journal.com
June 11, 2012 at 11 p.m.


Home sales in the multi-county area served by the Longview-Marshall Multiple Listing Service are running 9 percent ahead of 2011 for the first four months of 2012.

"This is the best year we've had as a company in four years," said Suzanne Cook of Suzanne Cook & Co. "Sales have been great across all price points and the upper end of the market has really improved."

Through the end of April, real estate agents in the Longview area closed 625 home sales. That was 51 more sales than for the same period a year ago, when 574 sales were closed.

Broker Malinda Lenhart, with Coldwell Banker Lenhart Properties, said her firm was doing far better in 2012 than it had the past couple of years.

"May was the best month we've had in many, many months," she said of her firm, which has offices in Longview, Kilgore and Marshall. "Perhaps the best part is that the pipeline is full, the number of pending sales is way up and I don't see any softening of the market."

Lenhart said increased hiring by East Texas employers in the medical, energy and other industries was helping buoy local demand.

"The available inventory is tightening some from a year ago and we're seeing more homes move in the high end - the upper $400,000 to $500,000 and above range," Lenhart said.

The total dollar volume of homes sold the first four months of the year increased about 4 percent from the same period a year ago, to $90.77 million. That was $3.5 million more than last year's volume.

Cook said there were about 260 sales pending in the Multiple Listing Service.

"Pendings are up and that's a great, great barometer of what's coming up as far as sales go," Cook said.

Helping drive increased demand, both brokers said, are medical recruiting driven by expansions at both Longview hospitals, along with hiring by industrial employers like Eastman Chemical Co. That demand, Cook said, is helping reduce the average time a property is on the market.

Since April 2011, the average time on market for a home in the Longview-Marshall area has dropped to 9.6 months from 10.3 months.

Young buyers considering purchases based on school districts are driving an increase in both interest and sales in one district.

"We're seeing a resurgence of interest in Longview ISD homes - people are feeling more positive about buying there with all the new district campuses that have been completed," Cook said. "They're saying they don't feel they need to go to one of the smaller districts for their kids to get a good education."

According to figures provided by the Multiple Listing Service, there were 175 fewer homes on the area market this April than a year ago. The number of active listings dropped from 1,802 a year ago to 1,627 in April.

As the supply has slipped the average price for a home sold in the Longview area increased 13 percent. A year ago, the average price was $148,000 in April. This April, it was $154,200.

Steve Ferguson, agent with Century 21 Skip Morton and Associates in Longview, said the market for first-time home buyers was brisk. Sales of homes in that category, generally within a sale price range of from $90,000 to $120,000, has been strong.

"The market overall is as strong as it's been in 3-1/2 years - it's still not back to where it was prior to that but it is much better," said Ferguson, who has been in the business 34 years.

"It's tougher to get loans these days and for a lot of properties the owners are butting heads with appraisers to get appraisals where they need to be to get a loan," he said. Ferguson encourages sellers wanting to get top dollar for their property to take the time to spruce things up.

"Fix it up, paint it up and touch it up if repairs are needed," he said. Most buyers are looking for homes they can move into without doing a lot of work or going to their expense after they move in.

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