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New, existing home sales up 5.1 percent in Pittsburgh region

| Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pittsburgh's housing market continued to show signs of improvement as sales of new and existing homes rose 5.1 percent in February compared to the same month last year, according to a report Wednesday.

There were 1,160 home sales during the month compared to 1,104 a year ago, according to RealStats, a South Side-based company that tracks housing activity.

Allegheny County showed the biggest increase with 699 sales compared to 649, and Butler County also showed an increase, with 97 sales compared to 87.

Both Beaver County, with 94 sales, and Westmoreland, with 162, had the same number as last year, but Washington County's total of 108 was below the 117 in February 2010.

Home sales also rose in January, when they were up 8.2 percent over the same month last year, RealStats said.

After six consecutive years of falling home sales, the two months of increases are an indication that the region may have a stronger housing market in 2011, said Daniel A. Murrer, RealStats vice president.

"There is still a lot of pent-up demand for housing in this region, one of the reasons February sales were strong," said Tom Hosack, CEO of Northwood Real Estate Services.

"Even though a federal tax credit of up to $8,000 was in effect last February, many buyers held off because they were nervous about the economy and others were unable to find the house they wanted," he said. "For someone planning to pay $250,000 for a house, that person wanted to be sure that was the right house for them."

Now that the economy seems to be stable, agents were writing new contracts in February, he said.

"It's cheaper to buy a house in this region now than it was during the same month last year," said Helen Hanna Casey, president of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services. "Interest rates are still low; buyers can acquire a house with 5 percent down."

Casey said sales at her company were up 18 percent in February over the same month last year, and she expects sales to be up from 12 to 15 percent in March.

Sales of existing houses last month reached 1,067, up 5 percent from the 1,016 last year, while new home sales were up 5.7 percent, with 93 this year compared to 88 a year ago, according to RealStats.

The average price of all houses sold reached $145,782, up 10.1 percent over $132,431 last year for the month, and the median price -- half of the sales are above and half below -- was $107,000, up 3.9 percent from $103,000.

The average price of existing houses was $132,067, up 8.2 percent from $122,062 a year ago, and the new home price averaged $303,134, up 20.2 percent over the $252,139 from a year ago.

"We have found an increase in the number of people interested in buying new houses, more than existed a year ago," said S. Murray Rust, founder of Montgomery & Rust, a local homebuilder.

"The demand for new housing is always there, and we expect a good spring and summer this year, unless world conditions cause a situation that hurts the economy," he said.

Top new housing seller was NVR Inc. (Ryan Homes) with 28, followed by Maronda Homes Inc. with 13. Third was Solara Ventures 4 LLC, which had nine sales, primarily at its Otto Condominium complex in the Strip District. Heartland Homes, with eight sales, was fourth. Maronda led in February 2010 with 29 sales, with NVR next at 21. Heartland, with eight sales in 2010, ranked third.

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