With strong finish, home sales improve

Helped perhaps by agreeable weather — only one megastorm and manageable winters at either end — 2012 saw a big up-tick in real estate sales over 2011 and a much stronger push at the end of the year.

“2012 was a very strong year,” said Bob Neumann of Neumann Real Estate, who said he’s starting to see signs of life among the higher-priced home sales.

“The upper end market is starting to come back,” he said. “Between $1 and $1.5 million, there were 39 sales” in 2012, he said, referring single-family homes. Between $1.5 and $2 million there were eight sales, and between $3 and $3 million there were four sales, he said.

In addition there was an $8.2 million sale of an 88-acre West Mountain Road estate on Dec. 31.

Annual sales volume regained virtually all the ground that was lost in 2011.

Some 268 single-family homes were sold, for an increase of 12% from 239 the previous year and similar to 2010 sales, when 271 homes sold, according to Realtors citing the Multiple Listing Service.

The average sale price rose a hair, from $739,000 in 2011 to $745,000, compared with $763,000 in 2010.

The last quarter of 2012 saw more than double the sales of the same period in 2011, with 76 properties changing hands, according to town hall transfer records, which include all real estate exchanges — single-family, multi-family,  commercial, and vacant lots.

Among those, 11 sold below $250,000. That figure includes a $7,200 sliver of land formerly part of a railroad right-of-way on Sunset Lane that the town sold to a property owner there. There were 24 properties that sold for between $250,000 and $500,000. Some 19 properties sold between $500,000 and $750,000. Ten sold between $750,000 and $1 million. Nine homes sold for over $1 million and three sold for over $2 million.

Conveyance tax for the three months was around $134,417 in 2012, compared with $67,564 in 2011. In October the town collected $24,946, followed by $39,612, and $69,858 in December.

The average sale price, which got a major last-minute shot in the arm from the West Mountain Road estate, was $724,108, for the quarter, according to town records.

As destructive as Sandy was, Realtors reported the recovery seemed to be smoother than after last year’s storms.

“I had out-of-towners that were supposed to come in the weekend after the storm and I said, you can’t come this weekend!” Coree LaManna of William Pitt Sotheby’s said.

“I actually saw the market come back pretty strong in November and December,” Mr. Neumann said. “I think people that are savvy buyers recognize that from October through November may be a good time to possibly buy,” he said. He added that the election being done with helped. “I’m sure it’s a combination.”

“So many trees were down, especially around Ridgefield and Redding, that a lot of people are sort of waiting through the winter to chop them down,” Ms. LaManna said, but people were quicker to fix their homes.”

Which houses are selling the best? Realtors say the houses that are staged well have a major edge in a buyer’s market.

“I’ve found that the buyers that are out there today are very specific,” Ms. LaManna said. “The houses need to be in tip-top shape.”

“Declutter, declutter, declutter — almost like a blank canvas,” was the advice of Ms. LaManna, who is also an interior designer.

Realtor Lonnie Shapiro of Coldwell Banker, who teaches a course on staging homes, echoed the “declutter” sentiment, and said throwing a fresh coat of paint and getting the floors looking good is key.

“People are just looking for perfection,” Ms. Shapiro said. “They want everything to be perfect. If it isn’t, right away they start taking dollars off to negotiate. They’re a fussy group out there.”

She added later, “The sellers had their turn for a lot of years and now it’s the buyers’ turn.”

But not all buyers are bean counters, she said.

“We have a smaller group of buyers that most Realtors love to death,” she said. “Our emotional buyers. They’ll walk in the house and say, ‘Oh my God, this house feels good.”

“We’re also seeing investors back in the market,” Ms. Shapiro said. She recently closed on a Casagmo unit with an investor who paid $74,000.

“When we see the investors coming back, it’s a great sign, because they think the market is bottoming out,” she said, adding, “We’re getting to the bottom of flushing out the short sales and the foreclosures.”

“We’ve built new bedrock with better buyers who are out there. It’s just a better foundation for the country to get rid of the funny money.”

Looking ahead, Realtors are hoping for a mild rest of the winter and an early spring.

“Right now we have 169 active single-family houses on the market in Ridgefield, which is amazingly low, which means if you’re going to be selling your house, don’t wait because you don’t have a lot of competition — possibly, depending on your price range,” said Ms. Shapiro.

Things tend to cool down dramatically around the holidays, and then there is typically a surge to put homes on the market for the spring.

“The goal is to beat them to the punch,” Ms. Shapiro said.

Ms. LaManna hopes the strong December will carry over into the new year.

“Right around the holidays there was a little pickup, which was great … because I think it was giving buyers that might be buying now a little confidence,” Ms. LaManna said.

“I’ve received several phone calls already about possibly listing in the next month. … Christmas Eve I received a phone call.”

“When you have a winter that is sunny, cold, but not a lot of snow we can have an amazing run in January, February, March as we did last year,” Mr. Neumann said.

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