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Home sales are up in Westchester, Putnam.

Realtor firms participating in the Westchester-Putnam Multiple Listing Service, Inc. reported record-high numbers of residential real estate sales both for the fourth quarter and the full year 1996.

The fourth quarter sales in Westchester County (actual closings with title passed in the period October 1 to December 31, 1996) numbered 1,848. This was 12.5 percent more than the previous fourth quarter record of 1,642 sales reported in 1995. The aggregate dollar value of the 1996 fourth quarter sales was nearly $525 million. The high numerical and dollar volume was the result of vigorous market activity during the mid-summer and early autumn months.

On a full-year basis, the Realtor firms reported 7,576 residential sales, amounting to nearly $2.3 billion in total value, a level of activity that was 7 percent above the previous record of 7,076 sales established in 1994. In fact, three of the housing categories tracked by the Multiple Listing Service - single-family houses, condominiums, and two- to four-family houses - established new annual sales records that surpassed the previous records set in 1994. Only cooperative units failed to reach record sales levels, but even in this sector the number of sales was the most since the previous record-setting years of 1988 and 1989.

The superior performance of Westchester's housing market in 1996 built upon a steady and strong recovery of six years duration since the 1990 recession. The recovery in the first several years was fueled in large measure by first-time home-buyers who were attracted to relatively affordable housing opportunity in the county, in comparison to prior years. The affordability of the housing stock was enhanced by the beginning of a trend to lower average mortgage interest rates.

First-time buyers have remained a pillar of the local housing market, but in the more recent years, 1994 to date, the recovery has extended to the higher price ranges of single-family houses and to the condominium sector as well. Reasonable mortgage interest rates have helped the recovery.

In the New York metropolitan region the average rate on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage was less than 8.5 percent all during 1996, and it was less than 8 percent for several months at both the beginning and end of the year.

As important as the fact of moderate interest rates was the consumers' perception of no real threat of runaway inflation that would drive up interest rates.

Another important factor in the long-term recovery and in 1996 as well was that average pricing did not change very much even as activity spread to the higher price ranges. The changes in median and mean sales prices on a quarter-by-quarter basis in 1996 reflected little more than normal fluctuations in response to seasonal activity.

The across-the-board median sale price for all housing sales during 1996 was $235,000 - the same as it was in 1995, and about 2 percent less than 1994's median of $239,500. In the largest market sector, single-family houses, the 1996 median sale price of $285,000 was just 2 percent ahead of 1995 and 3 percent ahead of 1994. The mean or arithmetic average prices, which are more responsive to higher priced sales, followed the same general pattern.

R appears that housing prices have roughly tracked the low levels of inflation of recent years, and this fact, too, has enabled more prospective buyers to enter the market, thereby generating high sales activity.

One consequence of the record-high sales activity was that year-end inventory (the number of properties listed for sale) dropped to 7,568 units, a level that was 13 percent less than 1995's year-end inventory. The important single-family house inventory was nearly 18 percent less than that of 1995. Inventory usually rebuilds as more properties come on the market for the spring sales season, but in 1997 the rebuilding will commence from the rather low 1996 closing level. There is a possibility of relative spot shortages in certain price ranges and locations, which in turn could generate price increases in excess of inflation.

Single Family Houses

The 1,241 sales of single family houses reported for the fourth quarter, and the 5,211 sales for the full year 1996, both were record levels for their respective periods. The aggregate dollar volume of all house sales in 1996 was nearly $2 billion and was 6 percent more than the previous high volume of 1994.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the fourth quarter sales were equivalent to an annual rate of 5,150 units, which was about par for the whole year, although it fell considerably short of the exceptionally high adjusted rate of 7,610 units of the prior quarter. However, as was noted in the prior Sales Report, the third quarter pace was boosted by changes in mortgage interest rates and other factors. Overall, seasonally adjusted rates in all four quarters of 1996 were higher than those of 1995 and prior years.

The fourth quarter median sale price of $270,000 was $10,000 or 4 percent higher than the $260,000 median of the fourth quarter of 1995. The increase reflected a slight shift to sales of more highly priced properties rather than any real price appreciation since the prior year, and this was true for all four quarters of 1996. On a 12-month basis, the 1996 median sale price of $285,000 was $5,000 or 2 percent more than the 1995 median of $280,000.


The 223 condominium sales reported for the fourth quarter were about 12 percent more than the comparable period a year ago, and that level also constituted a fourth quarter record. The seasonally adjusted sales rate was 860 units. That was the lowest rate for the year and probably reflected a pause in the market from the exceptionally high rate of the prior quarter.

Nevertheless, on both an absolute and adjusted basis, the fourth quarter sales were much improved over those of 1995 and prior years. Westchester's condominium market established itself as fully recovered in 1996.

The fourth quarter median sale price of $158,500 and mean sale price of $185,455 both were about 6 percent above comparable 1995 averages. On a full-year basis, however, 1996 average condominium prices hardly changed from 1995's. Condominium median sale prices have been in the range of $150,000 to $160,000 since mid-1993.

Condominium inventory was drawn down in 1996 on account of the high activity. The year-end inventory of 861 units was 13 percent below 1995's closing figures.


The co-op sales sector of Westchester's real estate market performed at a brisk pace throughout 1996 and into the fourth quarter. On a full-year basis, the 929 reported sales were the most since 1989. The fourth quarter sales of 250 units were also the most for any quarter since 1989. The fourth quarter seasonally adjusted rate was 930 units, which was 23 percent more than the actual 759 coop sales reported in 1995.

The fourth quarter and full-year coop median sale price both were $60,000 and were within $1,000 of the respective 1995 medians. Coops have been in the $59,000 to 65,000 median price range since the end of 1994. The mean sale price of cooperatives, $78,255 in the fourth quarter, was somewhat higher than in 1995, but not enough to confirm a shift to more highly-priced coops in the sales mix.

Unlike the other categories of housing tracked in these reports, the year-end inventory of cooperatives was only 5 percent below 1995's level. It appears that there was a continuing ample supply of new co-op listings to replenish the stock and that there was no signal of a shift in the supply/demand imbalance as 1996 concluded.

Putnam County Report

Putnam County's single-family house market closed the year with a strong fourth-quarter performance. The 186 actual sales were equivalent to a seasonally adjusted rate of 770 sales for the year, which was substantially better than the first and second quarter rates, although, as in Westchester, the third quarter sales rate was the strongest of the year.

There were 639 house sales reported by participating real estate offices for the entire year, and the aggregate sales prices of those houses was $121.2 million. The median sale price trended downwards from $180,000 in the first quarter to $171,500 by year end. The mean sale price followed a different pattern in the course of the year, however, and closed out at a high of $193,851 in the fourth quarter.

The Westchester-Putnam MLS has not enough experience with the Putnam County data as yet for detection of underlying trends.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Residential Real Estate
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Feb 5, 1997
Previous Article:Low pre-sale is no bar to co-op financing.
Next Article:Cooperative refinancing: the trend is amortization.

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