In the first three quarters of 2012, housing activity has been on the rise in the Oak Park and River Forest marketplace, an uptick everyone is hoping will expand and endure.
"While we are inching up, I still feel that we are solidifying the bottom, and I hope we aren't going any lower. But our economy is still pretty fragile," says Andy Gagliardo, president of the Oak Park Area Association of Realtors. "We are still tied to the unemployment. It's the same old story. People who believe they are secure in their jobs, they will start looking for a house. But we certainly have more activity, more buyers in the game these days."
According to the Oak Park Area Association of Realtors, between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30 of this year 293 single-family homes closed at an average sales price of $412,217, as compared to 240 single-family dwellings selling at $388,682 in 2011, about a 9.5 percent hike.
In contrast, this year, over that same time period, 171 condos in Oak Park closed, whereas only 148 moved in the first three quarters of 2011. The still sobering news is that the average sale price for condos in Oak Park dipped about 8.5 percent, from $160,945 in 2011 to $136,104 this year.
Likewise, in River Forest there is more activity in the market. Eighty single-family homes were sold in 2012, as compared to 65 in 2011. But, the median sales price for a single-family home dropped about 8 percent, the report says.
Condo sales, on the other hand, almost doubled over the previous year. However, the average selling point dropped just under 9 percent, as compared to the previous year.
Rich Gloor, of Better Homes and Gardens Gloor Realty in Oak Park, says that based on his business, the average sales price of a single-family home is encouraging, and pulling people off the proverbial fence.
"You have to be somewhat careful with that [8 percent increase in sales price] because the higher end has been a little more active, and when you see more activity in the $500,000 to $800,000 price range, obviously your mean average is going to be higher," he says. "Even if there is some higher end stuff selling, the real estate market here is still moving in the right direction."
Gagliardo, of Gagliardo Realty in River Forest, remains circumspect. "That is great for realtors. It means more sales. But again, that is compared to when there was nobody out there."
Meanwhile, the buying and selling of condos and townhouses in the area is still slogging along, says Steve Nasralla, an agent for ReMax in the Village. Although, not all condo buildings are taking as big of a hit as others. "Yet, every complex here has been having its share of short sales and foreclosures," he says.
A couple exceptions to this rule, notes Gloor, are a handful of "healthier" condo buildings that are walking distance from the Avenue and downtown business districts, properties such as 222 Marion, 221 N. Kenilworth Ave., and 165 N. Kenilworth Ave.
"Some of these buildings are seeing rebounding. But the prices are still coming down, and don't get me wrong, there are still foreclosures and short sales in those buildings," Gloor says. "But you are going to see the long-term homeowners, the ones who are living in a $500,000 to $900,000 family home, [willing to] dump those houses and buy in those condo buildings. I already have a lot of customers who have identified eight or nine condo buildings that they are willing to make the move to, once they sell their homes."
Inventory is expected to play a key role next spring in order for the uptick to continue. Nasralla says he is surprised at the lack of inventory currently on the market.
"It would be a good time to do a move-up buy if there were inventory available," Nasralla says. "In Oak Park, I have several folks who want to do the move-up buy, and they haven't found anything they want to move up to yet."
A continuing reality for Patricia McGowan, of Baird and Warner Realtors, is that, especially for high-end properties, more is selling for less.
"I recently sold a house where these people were $900,000 into it. We put it on the market for $800,000, and got an offer for $700,000," she explains. "Now, we were able to work that out, and get that offer up, but we didn't get to our $800,000. So, that kind of thing makes it difficult for the market to rebound and be as healthy as we would like it to be, when you start so far away."
Several realtors agree that this year more investors and quality rehabbers have started to come back.
"That has been the strongest segment, [because] people here can still run a traditional 30-year FHA loan up to the low $400,000s," Nasralla says. "So, the silver lining on some of these foreclosures coming out is that there are investors who are coming in and paying cash for them, renovating them into a nice product, and there is a strong demand for those properties. That has been a real boon in Oak Park."