TRAVERSE CITY — Local home sales continued a fast start in 2012, and jumped more than 16 percent in February.
Sales figures from the Traverse Area Association of Realtors showed 141 existing homes sold in the 5-county area last month. That's up from 121 homes sold in January, and represents a 9.3 percent increase from February 2011.
TAAR executive vice president Kim Pontius said several factors appear to be at work in the local market and range from cheaper home prices to low interest rates to an unseasonably mild winter that kept home buyers and sellers active.
"I can't help but think (weather makes) a difference," Pontius said.
Home sales totaled just under $24 million for February, and about half of the homes, 70, were sold in Grand Traverse County. The median sales price of $118,000 is down more than 5 percent from January and off 3 percent from February 2011.
Home lenders also saw increased activity. Ann Bollinger, executive vice president and chief financial officer for Traverse City State Bank, said the bank's mortgage applications are on the upswing.
"We're seeing a huge bump," Bollinger said. "In the last month, it's noticeably higher."
The bank has witnessed an increase in applicants for pre-qualified mortgages, she said, which means they're looking to buy in the near future. Bollinger said the bank has had a blend of applicants ranging from young, first-time home buyers to families looking to "move up" to larger homes, and buyers looking for vacation properties.
"It's a real good mix," she said.
Nationally, existing home sales declined in February from an upwardly revised January pace but are well above a year ago, while the median price posted a slight gain, according to the National Association of Realtors. Total existing-home sales slipped 0.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.59 million in February from an upwardly revised 4.63 million in January, but are 8.8 percent higher than the 4.22 million-unit level in February 2011.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said underlying factors are much better compared to a year ago.
"The market is trending up unevenly, with record high consumer buying power and sustained job gains giving buyers the confidence they need to get into the market," he said.
Pontius said the northwest Michigan housing market continues to draw interest from outside areas, including southeast and southwest Michigan and other places around the Midwest and beyond. He contends the region's marketing efforts, including the Pure Michigan campaign through the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, are boosting interest.
"I really believe what the CVB is doing will do a lot for our real estate markets," he said. "I'm very hopeful we're reaching into markets we haven't reached before."
Regionally, existing-home sales in the Midwest rose 1 percent in February to a pace of 1.02 million and are 13.3 percent higher than February 2011. The median price in the Midwest was $120,500, which is 0.5 percent below a year ago.
Wire services contributed to this report.