SCAOR: County real estate showing signs of growth

Figures recently released by the Sussex County Association of Realtors (SCAoR) show some encouraging signs for southern Delaware’s real estate markets, as the United States continues to rebound from the worst economic downtown in nearly a century.

As of June 18, nearly 1,000 homes had sold in Sussex County thus far in 2010, totaling more than $300 million in gross sales. The average sale price of a residential unit in the first half of the year was $315,434, a 5 percent increase over the same time a year ago.

“We are definitely seeing some encouraging signs. Homes are selling and our member Realtors are much busier than they were a year ago,” said Judy Dean, 2010 president of SCAoR. “We have also seen positive trending every month since January, which we see as an extremely encouraging sign that the economy is really beginning to improve here in Sussex County.”

Dean noted that sales figures for all of Sussex County obviously include properties sold east of Route 1, which can skew numbers just a bit during the spring and summer months. Nevertheless, she said, data from 2010 indicates across-the-board improvement throughout the entire county, from Seaford in the west all the way to the coastal resorts bordering the Atlantic Ocean.

The majority of sales in Sussex County have been in the $200,000 to $299,000 price range thus far this year, with sales in the resort areas accounting for the higher overall averages.

Dean noted that a big reason for the encouraging numbers is the federal tax credits that expired at the end of April. That program helped spur recent growth, she said, with many new homeowners entering the market for the first time as promises of thousands of dollars in government funds awaited them.

“Those tax credits were a wonderful tool for spurring growth in our nation’s real estate markets, but now that they’ve expired it’s time to move forward,” said Dean. “It’s still a buyer’s market out there, with many great deals just waiting to be scooped up. Here in Sussex County, there’s never been a better time to buy a house.”

While trends continue in a positive direction, there are still challenges ahead as markets from coast to coast continue to recover from the recent recession, Dean predicted. Unemployment rates, a backlog of homes in the foreclosure process and scores of adjustable rate mortgages continue to pose problems for real estate markets nationally, and in Sussex County, she said.

To meet these challenges, SCAoR has been working for more than a year on a couple of initiatives that Dean said will help strengthen area housing markets.

One program is designed to keep more people in their homes and out of the foreclosure process and is available to Sussex County homeowners through a grant from the National Association of Realtors.

Labeled “Talk before You Walk Away,” the program is provided by the Housing Opportunity Partner (HOP) committee of the Sussex County Association of Realtors, a not-for-profit entity that does not charge for the educational service.

“We realized this was a problem here in Sussex County and decided it was time to take action,” said Dean earlier this year. “Through this new program, we have put procedures and plans in place to stop many foreclosure proceedings from ever beginning. We’re very excited about this program and are hopeful it will make a difference for a lot of people who are facing difficult financial times.”

The program was officially launched during a media event on Wednesday, Feb. 24, at SCAOR’s headquarters just east of Georgetown.

There are several programs available at the local, state and federal levels designed to help homeowners in danger of foreclosure. To address these programs, and other options available to Sussex County homeowners, SCAOR’s leadership scheduled two public information sessions during the winter months.

While the record number of foreclosures highlighted 2009, Dean said Realtors believe 2010 will be remembered as the year Sussex County embarked on its road to economic recovery. Early signs are certainly encouraging, she said – even townhome sales are showing a 25 percent increase from a year ago.

“It’s going to take time, but we are all encouraged by the way things are going thus far in 2010,” said Dean, a Realtor with Long & Foster in Georgetown. “We’re confident things will continue to trend in the right direction.”

To read more about issues related to Sussex County’s real estate industry, visit SCAOR’s Web site at