Home prices, sales rise from year-ago lows

Homes sales and median prices in metro Atlanta rose in December from a year earlier, the second month in a row of gains, according to a National Association of Realtors report.

Local experts say the figures are encouraging, to a point. But one reason for the 2009 gains is that they are based on comparisons to the dark days of late 2008.  The deep trough in sales and prices of last winter and spring will color year-over-year comparisons for the next several months, they note.

Last month the median price of an existing single-family home in metro Atlanta was $122,000, almost 2 percent above the December 2008 mark. .

“December ‘08 was a very dismal report, and over the next few months the market further declined,” noted Shea Zimmerman, president of the Atlanta Board of Realtors. “We’re on a steady path of improvement, but we had a lower number to recover from.”

While the year-over-year comparison is the most important benchmark by many industry standards, the December 2009 median price fell nearly 6 percent less from November 2009.

The number of homes sold in December also rose nearly 15 percent from a year earlier, while falling from November of this year, according to the association’s report.

Atlanta’s results were on par with the national single family housing sales numbers. Nationally sales were up nearly 13 percent year-over-year and price improved 1 percent.

The national number on the sale of all housing types, including townhomes and condos, rose 15 percent.

Comparisons aside, 2010 will likely bring better housing news to the Atlanta market, said Zimmerman, who is also a managing broker for Harry Norman Realtors.

“By the time we get to spring we should see a better balance of available inventory which should improve the overall market,” she said. “Sales, in units, are on track to exceed 2009 and appreciation of home values may occur in 2010, but we need to take into consideration that homes purchased at the peak of the market, 2004, 2005 and 2006, will not see appreciation.”

The housing market's recovery is still tied to employment, Zimmerman said.

“We need jobs more than anything to further stabilize housing and the economy,” she said.