Saturday, April 14, 2012

6 worst home fixes for the money

By Dana Dratch •

It's the magic phrase uttered by almost anyone who's ever considered the cost of home remodeling: "We'll get it back when we sell."

Unless you keep those projects practical, though, you might just be kidding yourself.
For example:
  • Steel front door: Good.
  • Master suite addition costing more than the average American home: Bad.
Every year, Remodeling magazine looks at the hottest home upgrades and renovations and calculates just how much owners get back with they sell.

Upkeep is more popular than upgrades these days, says Sal Alfano, editorial director for Remodeling. These are the projects that often recoup the biggest slice of expenses at resale. But prices and returns do vary regionally, he says.

Ever wonder what brings the lowest return when you plant that "for sale" sign? Think high-dollar, high-end and highly personalized add-ons that make you drool. Like a totally tricked-out garage built from the ground up. Or a super luxe master suite addition. Or the home office redo designed just for you.

Here are the six improvements that, in their 2010 report, ranked dead last nationally when it comes to getting those renovation dollars back at resale.

Home office remodel

Want to get an idea what today's office-away-from-the-office looks like? Walk into Starbucks.
These days, a home office consists of a multiple-choice combination of wireless laptops, smartphones, PDAs and touch-screen tablets. And that worker bee might be toiling anywhere from a home patio or a favorite restaurant to a park bench.

The standard home office renovation, meanwhile -- complete with plenty of built-in storage and high-tech wiring -- is this year's biggest loser in the resale value sweepstakes. Nationally, homeowners spent an average of $28,888 and can expect to recoup about 45.8 percent at resale, according to the report.

Return on investment doesn't reflect your enjoyment of the space, Alfano says.
He offers two tips for home-office remodelers when they sell. First, opt for something that can be easily converted back into a bedroom or den for (or by) the next buyer.

Second, when you're selling, call it a study, den or hobby room. "There's lots of call for multipurpose space. Don't lock yourself into that one use," Alfano says. Don't use words that invoke images of actual work. Or the office.

Backup power generator

You see a backup generator and imagine all of the comforts no matter what the weather.
But potential buyers hailing from outside your local area may not share that vision. (And a handful of those who do might have watched too many zombie movies.)

On average, when homeowners have a heavy-duty backup power generator installed, they spend about $14,718, according to the report. Going with a slightly less expensive model or having a less complicated installation could cut the costs significantly, Alfano says.
Average amount of the price recovered at resale time: 48.5 percent.

Sunroom addition

Real estate agents will tell you that potential buyers want square footage, pristine condition and lots of light. So a brand-new room that has the word "sun" in it, it has to be great for resale value, right?

Not necessarily.

Your first clue: The word "addition" -- which means expanding the footprint of your home -- indicates that this is not a renovation for the faint of heart (or wallet). "It's one of the more expensive projects," Alfano says.

While it seems simple enough, the national average for a sunroom addition is $75,224, according to the report. Homeowners can expect to recoup about 48.6 percent when they sell.
That doesn't mean that adding a sunroom is always a bad move.

If your home needs another common area, a sunroom could be the answer, says Katie Severance, co-author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Selling Your Home." An addition is best considered in the context of the whole home, she says. "The doctor has to treat the whole patient. You have to look at the house and say 'What's out of balance?'"

Upscale master suite addition

Who doesn't want to wake up in a five-star-hotel-quality suite with an attached spa bathroom and a kitchenette that affords you coffee and pastries before facing the world?

Once you see the price tag, it won't just be the coffee keeping you up at night.

For a super-deluxe master suite addition -- which adds square footage and uses only top-dollar materials -- the average cost is about $232,062, according to the report.

That's 460 nights at a posh resort with enough left over to raid the minibar.

In years past, this project was "sort of a trend in vacation homes" that migrated to primary dwellings, Alfano says. Sellers can expect to recover about 52.7 percent at resale.

Your buyer can purchase a newer house with the same features as part of the original floor plan that "probably lays out better anyway," says Loren Keim, author of "How to Sell Your Home in Any Market."

So while the next buyer may appreciate your luxury accommodations (which could even tip their decision in your home's favor), chances are they won't want to pay the full tab for your remodel.

Bathroom addition

Unless you're a hermit who never entertains, you've probably wished for an extra bathroom now and then.

But bathroom additions require serious coin. For a moderately outfitted addition with synthetic stone or plastic laminate surfaces, figure parting with about $21,695, according to the Remodeling report. Go upscale, with finishes like premium marble or fine tile, and you can easily spend in the neighborhood of $40,710.

Either way, you get about the same return: 53 cents on the dollar. "In the buyer's mind, the additional bathroom isn't worth that additional $20,000 to $40,000," Keim says.
Investigate a less-expensive way to get the same result without flushing quite as much cash. While additions usually cost more, pros might be able to reconfigure your existing space to add a bathroom for less, Alfano says.

Upscale garage addition

Instead of cleaning out the garage, how much would you pay to have a new one built from scratch?

This time, it would have all the organizational built-ins, and a durable, easy-to-clean floor to ensure it would never be messy again. And windows for natural light.

Oh yeah, and you could store a couple of cars in there, too.

The price tag for a top-of-the-line detached two-car with all the trimmings is about $90,053, according to the report. You can expect to recover about 53.6 percent of that when you sell.
"This one is completely decked out on the inside," says Alfano. "It's a dream garage."

And that's likely some of the problem with recovering the value at resale. Says Keim, "You've got a very small target audience out there that wants an upscale garage."

10 Ways to Turn Off a Homebuyer

By Jay MacDonald | – Fri, Apr 13, 2012 3:07 AM EDT

What a difference a couple of years makes.
Back in 2007, homebuyers would beg to purchase your house. They would even bid more than the asking price for the privilege to do so.
Today ... well, not so much. Once the real estate bubble burst and foreclosures poisoned the housing pool, buyers suddenly regained the upper hand. But instead of buying, they're waiting, convinced that housing prices will continue to drop.

What's a smart seller to do in this environment?
We assembled a coast-to-coast SWAT team to address the crisis: Chad Goldwasser of Goldwasser Real Estate in Austin, Texas; Terry Cannon, a buyer's agent and broker with Oregon Exclusive Buyers Realty in Salem, Ore.; and Julie Dana, the New York-based "home stylist" and co-author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Staging Your Home to Sell."
They suggest 10 buyer turnoffs that sellers should avoid at all costs.
"If you do all the staging correctly and have a good agent, the house will hopefully only be on the market a few weeks," Dana says. "Then you can go back to living your life."
1. Dirt
Hands down, our panel agrees: Nothing turns off a buyer quicker than a dirty house.
"The No. 1 biggest mistake is not getting the home in the best possible condition. That's huge," says Goldwasser. "I won't even represent sellers at this point unless they are fully aware of how important it is to get their home in the absolute best condition that they've ever had it in."
Goldwasser recommends that sellers go the extra mile, from steam-cleaning tile and grout to replacing carpets.
"If the carpets are old and smelly, you should put in new," he says. "If they're relatively new, you should at least have them shampooed."
Cannon agrees that grime can derail any showing.
"The home should be neat and clean and free of all debris," Cannon says. "If it reeks of cats or the kitchen sinks and counters are so filthy that it almost looks like the food is moving, I won't even want to come in."
2. Odors
Buyers, it's said, buy with their noses. Make sure your home smells fresh and inviting.
"Odors are a big one, especially kitchen odors," says Dana. "I advise my clients not to cook fried food, fish or greasy food while the house is on the market."
Some pet owners mistakenly believe pet smells to which they've become accustomed help make their abode homey. Nothing could be further from the truth.
"If you're a dog person, you tend to think everyone else is a dog person," says Goldwasser. "But the truth is, 50 percent of the population hates dogs and doesn't want to be near them. "Pets in the home? You have to deal with that."
Dana advises her clients to eliminate all traces of pets, not just pet odors. It's important to get rid of pet paraphernalia and have a "pet plan" to make sure the animals are not around when the house is shown.
"A lot of times, people will leave pet items out -- dog dishes, cat litter boxes, etc.," Dana says. "That immediately turns off a buyer because they wonder, 'What has that animal done in the house?' Also, some people really don't like dogs. The minute they walk in and see this big, old dog bowl, they immediately won't like the house."
The same rules hold true for smokers: Remove all ashtrays, clean all curtains and upholstery, and consider smoking outdoors while your home is on the market.
"Interestingly, next to the kitchen, the smelliest room in the house is actually the living room," Dana says. "That's typically the room that has the most fabric, so that is where odors get absorbed."
3. Old fixtures
Want buyers to roll their eyes? Leave old fixtures on your doors and cabinets.
"You need to change out old fixtures in your house," Goldwasser says. "New cabinet hardware and doorknobs will probably cost all of $400 or $500, but it makes a huge difference."
The same holds true for dated ceiling fans, light fixtures and kitchen appliances.
"Homes that have old fans, lights, ovens, microwaves, ranges and dishwashers can really turn a buyer off," says Goldwasser. "Sellers will say, 'Oh, the buyers can take care of that.' Well, yes they can, but it's going to impede you from getting the highest price possible for your home."
4. Wallpaper
Your grandmother may have had it in every bedroom. Your mom may have loved it as a room accent. But today's buyer wants no part of wallpaper.
"Wallpaper is a definite no-no," Dana says.
Wallpaper is a pain to remove and simply adds another chore to a buyer's to-do list, Dana says.
"Wallpaper is extremely personalized. You've spent hours looking over books to pick out the wallpaper you want," she says. "What are the odds that the person walking in the door will also like that wallpaper that you picked out?"
5. Popcorn acoustic ceilings
Times change, and with them home decor styles. Acoustic popcorn ceilings, once the must-have for fashionable homes in the '60s and '70s, now badly date your space.
If you can't stomach the cost or the mess to remove the overhead popcorn, be prepared to credit a buyer in certain markets in order to close a sale.
"The popcorn acoustic ceiling is a major, major turnoff to buyers these days," says Goldwasser.
6. Too many personal items
Psychologically, when buyers tour a home, they're trying it on to see how it fits, just as they would a skirt or a pair of pants. If your house is cluttered with too many personal items, it's like the buyer is trying on those clothes with you still in them. A fit is unlikely.
"Anything that makes your house scream 'you' is what you don't want," Dana says. "I tell all my clients that how we decorate to live and how we decorate to sell are different, and right now, we're decorating to sell."
Sellers should try to eliminate personal items, including family photos, personal effects and even unique colors, she says.
"As soon as you have family photos, buyers get very distracted. 'Oh, did I go to school with him? What do their children look like?'" she says. "Suddenly, you're selling your family, and you're not selling the home."
If you really want to hook a buyer, Dana offers a tip: "I try to place a mirror strategically so that people can actually see themselves in the home, so they can actually picture themselves living there."
7. Snoopy sellers
Realtors and buyers alike generally bristle when the seller greets them at the door for a showing.
"It's so annoying," Goldwasser says. "They will want to walk around with the potential buyer and put in their two cents' worth. It's not good. Normally, there are one out of 10 sellers where it's OK to have them there, and that's because they know what is up with the property and how everything works."
Goldwasser makes a point to shoo his sellers away from showings when he's the listing agent.
"They like to think they know what they're doing, and that's fine," he says. "But when you've sold thousands of homes and you have a system, you know how to get people the maximum value for their home. That's why they hire you, right?"
8. Misrepresenting your home
Misrepresenting your house online in the multiple listing service is a sure way to really upset buyers and their Realtors.
One of Cannon's buyers loved a home she saw online. When he drove by to take a look, he was surprised to find acres of ramshackle mobile homes across the street.
"Sellers are going to paint the best picture they can," he says. "Some listings I've looked at and wondered how in the world they got that gorgeous photo without showing all the junk that's around it. When you get there, you wonder why didn't they just be upfront?"
9. Poor curb appeal
Much is made of curb appeal, and for good reason: It's your home's handshake, the critical first impression that lasts with most buyers.
"You have to totally trim and edge your yard to get it into the most immaculate condition you can," Goldwasser says. "It's a big mistake to not freshly mulch the beds and trim the trees. Every little detail counts.
"To not power-wash the exterior or leave mud dauber and wasp and bird's nests in your eaves and above your doors? You've got to be a fool to do that."
10. Clutter
Whether inside or out, less is more when it comes to clutter.
"I usually start in the closets," Dana says. "Your closets should be half-full with nothing on the floor. Why? Because most people looking for a house have outgrown their previous house. Showing them that you've still got room to grow gives them a reason to buy."
Kitchens and built-in bookshelves should showcase spaciousness by following the rule of three. For kitchens, there should be no more than three countertop appliances. Meanwhile, bookshelves should be divided into thirds: one-third books, one-third vases and pictures, and one-third empty.
The home office should be very generic so any type of professional can imagine living there, Dana says.
"Otherwise, it can be a distraction: 'What does he do for a living? How much money does he make?'" she says.
Dana's tip for toddler parents is to pack away extraneous "kiddie litter" and keep a laundry basket handy.
"When you get that phone call one hour before a showing, toss everything in that basket and take it to the car with you and your kids, and you're all set," she says.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Tri-Cities is fastest growing metro area, and cities are preparing

Posted: Apr 05, 2012 6:47 PM PDTUpdated: Apr 05, 2012 6:47 PM PDT
KENNEWICK, Wash. -- A population report released today by the US Census Bureau shows that the Tri-Cities area was the fastest growing metro area in the nation over the last year with Franklin County was the fifth fastest growing county.
The Census' 2011 population estimate showed  264,133 thousand residents for the Tri-Cities metro area, a 4.3% increase over 2010.
"We have seen growth last year in  manufacturing, which is the opposite of what the rest of the country is seeing and the housing market is very affordable," says Carl Adrian, the President and CEO of TRI-DEC.
But with growth come other problems.  "We are in a sense running out of industrial property. In Pasco, the processing center is basically full, in Richland there's not really any large sites available for any large industry," says Adrian.
That's why the city of Kennewick is excited about a new law signed by Governor Gregoire last week.
"What it does is,  it provides an opportunity to expand our urban growth area south of Interstate 82. Right now our urban growth area ends at Southridge area.  And our Southridge area is really not conducive for development purposes," says Marie Mosley Kennnewick City Manager.
Now the city is working with Benton County to include the 1,500 acre area as part of their Urban Growth Area.
"What we're looking at is a mixture of light industrial use like research development, office, maybe warehousing, data centers," says Greg McCormick, the Planning Director for the City.
The application is due in December. The city is also working with  property owners because there has been some interest for property development. 
"our interest right now is to demonstrate to the county that we need the extra land, for industrial development. And show that we can service that land with the right infrastructure," says McCormick.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Developers plan for Kennewick's Southridge area

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City Herald

Published Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012

KENNEWICK — Where shrubs and grass now grow, Stan Nuxall Jr. sees 61 villa-style townhomes, with stucco exteriors and some native landscaping.
Nuxall is developing Villas Verde, or "Green Homes," on the southeast corner of 27th Avenue and Ely Street in Kennewick with the goal of providing homes for retirees.
Plans for new homes similar to those at Villas Verde seem to be sprouting up in Kennewick.
The city has received three applications for new subdivisions in the first two weeks of the year. Last year, six projects were proposed, said Evelyn Lusignan, Kennewick's customer service manager.
With the new development and shopping options at Southridge, the area has grown into a good spot for new homes, Nuxall said.
South Kennewick is where available land is, said Rene Dahlgren, Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities director of government affairs.
Residential and commercial development goes in waves, she said. The area has a new sports complex, and Kennewick General Hospital plans to build a new hospital in the area.
New home permits were down in January compared with last year, but the national and state housing markets have been picking up, and Dahlgren said builders expect the Tri-Cities to exceed those markets.
Villas Verde will be built in groups of three and four, Nuxall said. Most are likely to be one-story.
Nuxall said he will participate in Energy Star and the Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities "Built Green" program.
The townhomes will be near Canyon Lakes Restorative & Rehabilitation Center. And Nuxall said he hopes to attract some couples where one spouse is living in the townhome and the other in assisted living.
He hopes to have the dues for the homeowners' association to be the lowest in the Tri-Cities. The dues will pay for maintenance.
The homes will be affordable, but the exact prices have not yet been set, he said.
Fireball Investments will own the land and develop it, and Green Plan Construction LLC will build the homes. Nuxall's company, SL Nuxall Real Estate Services, will market the properties.
Villas Verde will go before the city hearing examiner on April 9 for preliminary plat approval.
Nuxall said he hopes to have the roads and first homes go up shortly after city approval is received.
Nuxall will build some homes on speculation but he also said he hopes for presales, where homeowners can pick their own floor plan and lot.
Not too far from the future site of Villas Verde, a cherry orchard on the corner of 45th Avenue and South Ely Street will be replaced with 120 new single-family homes.
Owner Dale Ross has been finding it too difficult to operate the small orchard inside city limits, said Dave Retter, Windermere Real Estate/Tri-Cities owner and broker.
Cherry Creek Estates will be along the lines of Shadow Run on 36th Avenue and Ely Street and Pheasant Run on Vancouver Street and 27th Avenue, projects that Retter said Windermere Real Estate/Tri-Cities worked on with other developers.
J-U-B Engineers of Kennewick is also involved in the Cherry Creek Estates project.
South Kennewick is a great location, with the businesses and restaurants that have opened at Southridge, Retter said.
The 33 acres are the last large piece of dirt available in that area of Kennewick for development, he said.
Cherry Creek Estates will have homes that likely will be attractive to move-up and first-time home buyers, Retter said. They hope to have homes priced between $185,000 to $275,000.
The project is scheduled to go before the hearing examiner March 12.
The soonest Retter expects the project to break ground is in late June. The first homes won't be available until late this year or early next year.
The builders for the project have not yet been chosen, but there likely will be between three to five, Retter said. The subdivision might be completed in five phases.
Presales will be available sometime this summer, after city requirements are met and the prices are determined, he said.
Windermere Real Estate/Tri-Cities agents have been seeing homes go under contract for sales at a record pace this month in all price ranges, Retter said.
"I think there has been a pent-up demand," he said.
Cherry Creek Estates is one of six applications for new subdivisions in Kennewick that came in last year, Lusignan said. Cherry Creek Estates and the three subdivisions from this year are being reviewed by the city before they head to the hearing examiner.
After the city hearing examiner gives pre-plat approval, developers put in the required utilities and streets, she said. Then the subdivision heads to Kennewick City Council for final approval.
The other two new subdivisions proposed in Kennewick are:
* Southcliffe, 408 single-family homes on Sherman Road in the Thompson Hill area, by developers Milo Bauder and Grant Young.
* Grandridge Meadows South, 24 single-family homes proposed by Monogram Homes north of Clearwater Avenue near the future expansion of Steptoe Street.

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Steady growth expected in Kennewick

By John Trumbo, Tri-City Herald

Published Monday, Mar. 12, 2012

KENNEWICK -- Kennewick rode out the economy's difficult ride fairly well last year and this year should hold steady, finance and housing officials recently told the city council.
Banks will continue to be tight-fisted with their cheap money, while regulators increase scrutiny and credit unions enter the loan market, said Ben Rutledge with Gesa Credit Union.
Rutledge noted that a benefit of the recession was that it "weeded out bad commercial lenders," which gave the credit unions their opening to invest $90 million in the Tri-Cities in the past three years.
Most of the money was for real estate loans, with agricultural loans receiving the second largest share.
Rutlege said to expect minimal economic growth this year and flat interest rates through 2014, and tougher rules and regulations and a debt crisis that will affect Europe and the U.S.
In a word, Rutledge described the future as "uncertainty."
And Dave Retter, owner and broker of Windermere Real Estate in the Tri-Cities, agreed that Kennewick's housing market "isn't as rosy as 11 years ago."
But he said Kennewick has been a good market, with 42 percent of the people moving to the area choosing homes in Kennewick. Still, 73 percent of the houses sold in Kennewick in the past three years have been resales, he added.
The open spaces of the past that saw big residential developments such as Hansen Park almost are gone, so future development will have to look at the Southridge area and pockets of property for infill projects, he said.
"The challenge is how do we do infill and make it affordable?" Retter said. Reducing some requirements that gobble up land, such as curbs, gutters, sidewalks and mow strips, would help, he said.
"If there is no change, people are going to Pasco," Retter said.
"I don't think we're going to see any boom (this year). We'll just be consistent," he said.
Renee Dahlgren of the Home Builders Association of the Tri-Cities said Kennewick is "the sweet spot" of the Tri-Cities for being the most consistent with the kind of growth and home values desired and for having great stability in its market.
The number of single-family home permits has continued upward during the recession while the average single-family home value also increased, she said.
Kennewick's advantage in the Tri-Cities is its comparatively lower permit costs, and having a streamlined permitting process at city hall, Dahlgren said.
She also noted:
* Housing Predictor in September 2011 ranked Kennewick the second best housing market in the U.S.
* Farmers Insurance Group in December 2011 named the Tri-Cities the No. 1 most secure place to live in the U.S. among mid-sized communities.
* Milken Institute in December 2011 ranked Tri-Cities the 10th best-performing community in the country.
But being well positioned to handle growth and having the lowest interest rates in history with a 3 percent vacancy rate doesn't mean 2012 will be a growth year, she said.
National recovery and getting Hanford waste stabilized are unresolved big issues, Dahlgren said.
She also told Kennewick officials to expect a "flat" 2012 for housing.

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Bargain hunters boost home sales

By The Associated Press

Published Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012

SPOKANE -- Sales of existing homes in Washington rose in the final quarter to 2011, but prices continued to drop.
A report by the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Washington found the rise in sales reflects bargain hunting and the large number of distressed properties in lower-priced neighborhoods.
Sales of homes were 9.6 percent higher than in the fourth quarter of 2010, the report found.
But the median price was down 8 percent from 2010, to $219,700. That's the lowest fourth-quarter price since 2003, when the median was $205,700.
"The 2012 market will continue to challenge sellers trying to preserve their equity," said Glenn Crellin, associate director of the center.
The low interest rates would ordinarily have created a much stronger real estate market, Crellin said. Rates in the fourth quarter were the lowest ever recorded, he said.
Low prices and interest rates did mean that housing affordability indexes reached record highs for the eighth consecutive quarter, he said.
Home prices were up in the Tri-Cities last year. The average sale price last year was $200,291, up from $196,833.
In Washington's urban counties, the greatest quarterly gain in sales was 17 percent in Snohomish County, while the greatest decline, 9.7 percent, was in Cowlitz County.
The biggest year-to-year drop was 13.5 percent in King County; the smallest was 2.5 percent in Kitsap County.
In nine rural counties, median prices increased from the closing quarter of 2010.
"This indicates that the housing market is uneven, with some areas, or neighborhoods, seeing price stabilization, while others have many distressed and foreclosure properties," Crellin said.
In November, there were more than 76,000 Washington homes with mortgage payments at least 90 days past due. That's enough to feed the housing market for three quarters, Crellin said.

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The hunt for homes is on in the Tri-Cities

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City Herald

Published Saturday, Mar. 24, 2012

More Tri-City families are starting to get off the sidelines and hunt for new homes.
Area real estate agents said more buyers are checking out homes during open houses than they have seen in a long time.
The nationwide rebound of the housing market helps increase the confidence of Tri-Citians and makes them more comfortable about making a decision about the size of a new home, said Dave Retter, Windermere Real Estate/Tri-Cities owner and broker.
There is more optimism from buyers, real estate agents and builders, said Paul Roy, Tri-City Association of Realtors past president.
All the economic indicators seem to be showing that the nation is on an upswing from the recession.
There is some pent-up demand from buyers who took a wait-and-see stance, said Roy, managing broker with Coldwell Banker Tomlinson Associated Brokers of Kennewick.
Some Tri-Citians who have been living in apartments waiting for their homes in other areas to sell are selling those houses, Retter said.
Real estate agents also are seeing some of the types of buyers -- move-up buyers and upper-end buyers -- who have been missing from the Tri-City market in the past three years, he said.
The area needs a variety of people looking to buy new homes to be healthy, from first-time buyers to retirees looking to downsize, Retter said.
First-time home sellers are like the beginning of a domino effect, Roy said. Their decision to sell their home and buy a new home gives first-time home buyers more choices, and it lets the seller of their new home have the same chance to move up to a new home.
"Last year we were very optimistic. This year we are seeing the reality," Roy said.
There were 326 homes sold during January and February this year, compared with 330 sold in the same two months of last year.
The average price is up to about $203,400, compared to about $198,400 during the same months last year, Retter said. That's a combination of the value of homes going up, and some higher value homes being sold.
The median sale price is about $184,400, which means an equal number of homes have been sold for more than $184,400 and for less than that amount, he said. Last year, the median was $175,000 for January and February.
That is one of the highest medians seen recently, and is a good sign, he said.
There were 1,152 homes on the market in Kennewick, Richland, West Richland and Pasco earlier this week, Retter said. That compared with about 1,212 in October, and is a fairly good number for the cities.
Carol Bird, Tri-Cities Realty Group co-owner, said she is seeing more new homes where contractors have the land and then the buyer picks the home that will be built on the lot. It can take at least 90 days for the home to be finished.
In general, buyers are looking for new homes rather than older, existing homes, she said.
Bird said she thinks the local real estate market will stay fairly stable this year. Interest rates still are low, and that can make the difference on what home a family can afford.
While home sales remain similar, the number of building permits issued for new homes in the Tri-Cities is about 30 percent lower than those issued last year.
In January and February, 157 building permits were issued, compared to 222 during the same two months in 2011, according to the Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities.
Rene Dahlgren, the association's director of government affairs, said she is not sure exactly why fewer homes have received permits so far this year.
Pasco issued 46 permits for new single-family homes in January and February, compared to 82 during the same months last year. Dahlgren said she expects the city's consideration of school impact fees caused some builders to look elsewhere.
The next few months will be telling in how the year will shape up, she said.
"I really expect it to even out for the most part," Dahlgren said.
Roy expects home prices to increase as the economy improves. And he said he would encourage buyers to take advantage of the low interest rates now, since those rates will rise as the economy improves.
"Now is the time to get out there," Roy said.

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