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Region's housing health rates in Top 10 in nation

| Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Pittsburgh's housing market continues to amaze the rest of the nation.

A national real estate research firm rates Pittsburgh among the top 10 healthiest housing markets in the nation during October 2013.

That's what Zillow.com said. It ranked Pittsburgh seventh, behind four California cities, Denver and Boston.

Pittsburgh was given a 7.4 percent Market Health Index, which meant the city was 74 percent better than all comparable cities Zillow covers.

While national reports show other communities, which sustained major downturns in housing sales and are slowly recovering, home sales here remain strong, each month surpassing the totals for the same month a year ago.

Pittsburgh avoided the deep housing downturn that states such as Florida, Nevada and California experienced. Sales during the recession years of 2008 to 2010 never had the deep declines other communities sustained.

Some home buyers in 2013 were having difficulty finding the house they wanted within weeks or months. For some, it took up to a year.

That's what happened to Matt and Maria DiGirolamo before buying their first home in O'Hara.

“We got married in October but had been looking for a house close to the city for over a year, one priced in the $300,000 to $350,000 range,” Matt said.

They said with the help of Allison Nortier of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, they paid slightly more than $350,000 for a four-bedroom, 2½ bath house.

For Matt, the decision to buy a home in the Pittsburgh region is a homecoming, since he grew up here, but has spent the past few years in McLean, Va., outside Washington. Maria is from Marietta, Ga.

Matt works for KPMG, one of the nation's top accounting firms, as a consultant and in an advisory position. Maria, who graduated as a physician assistant, works for UPMC out of emergency rooms at different locations in the region.

During 2013, the Pittsburgh metropolitan region — excluding Fayette County — had 22,618 sales compared to 20,397 for 2012, according to the West Penn Multi-List.

RealStats, a South Side-based real estate information company, which records house sales in the counties of Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland starting at $10,000, recorded 1,776 sales of new homes from January through November of last year. The median price jumped, from $284,800 in 2012 to $316,340 in the January-November period.

The National Association of Realtors, which focuses on existing house sales, said in October, there were 424,000 sales of houses, condos and cooperatives, compared to 401,000 for the same month in 2012.

The national average in October was $237,300, a 10.2 percent increase over the $224,500 for the same month in 2012.

Locally, West Penn's November figures showed the average at $157,282, a 0.15 percent increase over the $157,050 in 2012.

What may be driving prices is the lack of sufficient inventory in most regions, including Pittsburgh.

“With limited housing inventory, we expect an active sales season this winter. So far this winter, home buyers are not letting up their searches, as we often see in our region,” said George Hackett, Multi-List president and president of Coldwell Banker Real Estate Services Pittsburgh.

“(2013) has been a stable year for new housing production,” said Jeff L. Martin, whose presidency of the Builders Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh ended Dec. 31.

“Every builder, remodeler and associate member I've talked to has reported being very busy and are upbeat and optimistic about 2014,” he said.

Sales have been good in all price ranges, Martin said. Inventory of new houses is low, but he noted that builders will have sufficient lots to continue to build.

Sam Spatter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7843 or sspatter@tribweb.com.

Two things could derail sales in 2014, he said. Higher mortgage interest rates could reduce the momentum, and Congress eliminating or reducing the mortgage interest deduction could hurt sales.

RealStats said the median price in new home sales in 2011 ($284,825) and 2012 ($284,800) were practically identical, but there was a big jump in 2013 when it reached $316,340. The median price is based on equal number of houses sold priced higher and lower than the amount.

It took Kathy and Scott Hopkin 10 years to find the house they wanted.

They weren't ready to settle for just any house following their marriage nearly 10 years ago. Members of the Baby Boomer generation, they wanted a house in an open area, with plenty of woods and space.

One house that closely met their criteria they lost to another buyer.

Working with Donna Costelnock of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, they spotted a three-bedroom house in Ruffsdale, on 14 acres that fit their needs.

“We now sit atop a mountain, and from our house with its cathedral ceilings, large windows and log-burning fireplace that's between the family and dining room, we have a great panoramic view of the area,” she said.

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