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(Janesville, WI) By Jim Leute, Gazette

Local real estate sales in 2013 reached levels not seen in several years and are reflective of what brokers call a more normal market.

In Rock County, real estate agents sold more than 1,800 existing homes in 2013, a number not surpassed since 2007.

More important, the average price of those homes sold was nearly $119,000, an amount last topped in 2009.

“It's just becoming a more normal market,” said Adam Briggs, broker/owner of Briggs Realty Group in Janesville.

When compared with other markets around the country, the Rock County market is typically referred to as stable. Generally, it doesn't get too hot or too cold.

It did, however, warm up in 2006 and 2007, when homes sold for an average of $136,000 to $138,000.

“That wasn't reality,” Briggs said.

Shortly after the arrival of the Great Recession and the departure of General Motors, the local real estate took a nosedive, both in average prices and numbers of sales.

Both, however, have been slowly improving.

“Last year was better than the year before, which was better than the year before that,” Briggs said.

Briggs said the returning normalcy of the local real estate market is the result of several factors, including:

-- Buyers, he said, seem to be more interested in buying, rather than just looking around, he said.

“The buyers we're dealing with just seem more real, more genuine about the market,” he said. “It's refreshing, in a way, to be dealing with people who are truly interested in buying, and they're doing their homework and then following through.”

-- Sellers, he said, are taking a more reasonable approach in pricing their properties.

“For the most part, they're pricing according to market,” Briggs said. “They are realizing that they probably aren't going to get what their neighbor got in 2006 or 2007.”

-- The local market has nearly rid itself of a significant number of distressed properties—foreclosures and short sales.

Rock County foreclosure filings in 2013 were 44 percent fewer than they were in 2012, according to the Rock County Clerk of Court's Office.

Distressed properties dramatically impact sales prices because they're often completed at pennies on the dollar. Not only do they drag down average sales prices, they put off typical sellers who don't want to compete in that market.

“It's certainly a better time to be a seller because you're not competing with those comparables—bankruptcies and foreclosures,” said Jim Zanton, sales director for Shorewest Realtors in Janesville and president of the Rock-Green Realtors Association.

In addition, local real estate agents have sold more higher-end homes, which has helped boost average prices.

Both Zanton and Briggs said interest rates continue to be stable. Freddie Mac, the government-backed finance company, said the December average commitment rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage was 4.46 percent.

Both men said attractive programs exist for first-time buyers.

“We're seeing movement all across the market,” Briggs said. “First-timers are getting in, and that bumps everyone else up.

“These are people who are selling and buying something else here. They're no longer selling and heading for the hills.”

Briggs said he expects the momentum of 2013 to carry into this year.

He's been spending a lot of time recently on market analyses for prospective sellers. That, he said, is a sign that more homes will go on the market and give a needed boost to the local inventory.

“Last year was definitely a good year, and I expect this year to be even better,” Zanton said. “There's nothing on the horizon to suggest otherwise.

“We were hit a little harder than most communities, so it's taken a little longer to recover, but things are definitely returning to normal.”


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