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A realtor’s sign marks a house for sale near Middlebury Sept. 27, 2012. Local home sales are rising lately. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen) (AP)

Elkhart Real Estate agent Cory White talks about the real estate market in Elkhart County as he stands in one of the properties on Johnson Street that he is currently trying to sell. White was photographed Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. Home sales in Elkhart County have increased by more than 10 percent in 2012. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)

Elkhart Real Estate agent Cory White enters one of the properties on Johnson Street that he is currently trying to sell. Home sales in Elkhart County have increased by more than 10 percent in 2012. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)

Elkhart Real Estate agent Cory White talks about the real estate market in Elkhart County as he stands in one of the properties on Johnson Street that he is currently trying to sell. White was photographed Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. Home sales in Elkhart County have increased by more than 10 percent in 2012. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)
Elkhart County home sales are up and real estate agents are optimistic
Posted on Jan. 23, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Jan. 23, 2013 at 6:13 p.m.

ELKHART — It may not exactly be smooth sailing in the local housing market.

A pair of real estate agents here say the worst of the worst brought on by the Great Recession is over, though. And year-end numbers for 2012 indicate the market is on the rebound, poised for continued improvement in 2013.

“Right now, based on the trends, it looks like it’s pretty darn good,” said Gary Decker, an Elkhart real estate agent and president of the Elkhart County Board of Realtors, or ECBOR, an industry group.

Here are some of the ECBOR numbers:

Ÿ Home sales in Elkhart County in 2012 totaled 1,793, up 9.3 percent from 1,641 in 2011 and the best figure since 1,996 in 2007, when the first hints of the recession became apparent.

Ÿ The median home sales price — half of the prices exceed that and half are below it — reached $99,330 in 2012, up 9.2 percent from $91,000 in 2011 and the best since $107,000 in 2008.

Ÿ The total value of closed sales reached $199.46 million in 2012, up 16 percent from $171.99 in 2011 and the best since $253.09 million in 2007.

OPTIMISTIC FOR 2013

Of course the 2012 numbers don’t match pre-recession peaks — home sales of 2,383 in 2005, the $126,797 median sales price in 2007 and total sales volume of $294.03 million in 2005. But they’re northbound, and that has real estate agents breathing easier than in the lean years of 2008, 2009 and 2010.

“We’re really optimistic for 2013,” said Cory White, another Elkhart real estate agent.

Several factors figure in the improvements. The economy is on the rebound, more are working and thus there are more people willing and able to buy homes. Annualized, Elkhart County’s unemployment rate — though still facing monthly fluctuations — was 9.2 percent for 2012, down from 11.2 percent in 2012 and the peak of 18.1 percent in 2009.

What’s more, the number of homes on the market, notably foreclosed homes, is on the decline, increasing competition, and prices, for those units still to be had. There were 2,535 home listings in 2012, down from the peak of 3,721 in 2007.

“Our demand is up and our supply is down,” said White.

Foreclosed homes can really pull down the median price, and he said the backlog of such units is thinning. He would typically have an inventory of perhaps 40 such units at any given time in 2010, but now, White, who specializes in such units, has a stockpile of less than 10.

At its worst, he added, the number of units on the roster at the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department’s monthly sale of foreclosed homes reached around 180. Of late, the figure has hovered around 50.

“A lot of it’s the foreclosed inventory is dwindling ... and the economy is starting to rebound,” he said.

The varied figures would suggest a seller’s market. White, though, noted that home interest rates are still low, 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent, good news for buyers.

STATE NUMBERS UP, TOO

Statewide, home sales are up as well, cause for bullish predictions from the Indiana Association of Realtors, an industry group.

“Realtors have every reason to believe that buyer demand will maintain the momentum throughout 2013,” Karl Berron, chief executive officer of the group, said in a press release this week. “Continued economic growth and cheap borrowing costs will insure it.”

Statewide home sales in 2012 totaled 66,516, up 14.7 percent from 57,985 in 2011. The median sales price was $118,000, up 4.5 percent from $112,900 in 2011. The inventory of homes totaled 38,687 in December, down from 42,162 a year earlier.

The “biggest story” is that homes “have not only held their value, but also made price gains to levels not seen since the recession began,” the state association said.