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Real estate market shows signs of life

The pace of home sales is starting to pick up in western Nevada County, according to real estate agents and a mortgage broker.

Rolph Kleinhans of Sierra Cascade Properties in Nevada City said he recently sold a Grass Valley home for $350,000 after it was on the market for just four days.

“Yes, activity is picking up,” Kleinhans said. “You are seeing properties that are priced well, and if it’s clean and nice, it will go.”



Median home prices in April climbed to $382,000 after finishing the first quarter at $372,000, according to real estate agent Paul Sieving, who collects data from title companies.

Median prices peaked in the final months of 2005 when they reached $453,500, he said.




April also saw a slight bump in sales to 50, compared with an average of 38 a month in the first quarter of this year, said Sieving, adding that at its peak, about 150 homes were sold a month in 2004.

Both Sieving and Kleinhans are seeing an increase in demand for homes that cost $500,000 and less, which represents the more affordable homes in this area.

“The bulk of the sales are occurring in the middle-priced range,” Sieving said. “That’s usually a promising sign of recovery some time in the future.”

In the past few days, three buyers have closed escrow for homes in the new Highlands subdivision in Grass Valley, according to Don Fultz, who is marketing the subdivision for Citizens Bank. Nearly 30 houses now are listed from $215,000 to $295,000.

“It’s my sense that the market has pretty well bottomed out and potential buyers should realize that interest rates are probably going to go back up,” Fultz said.

Mortgage broker Susan Costello said she has seen more interest in the costlier properties in the past few weeks. She recently helped close a deal for a $700,000 Nevada City home that was listed for 12 days.

“We’re not seeing the urgency in the market like we did before, but I think people are starting to sense that we are at or near the bottom,” Costello said.

Lending requirements are tighter than in the recent past – often resulting in a 20 percent to 30 percent down payment on a home.

According to statistics compiled by the Nevada County Association of Realtors, most sellers are getting close to the listed price of their houses.

In Grass Valley, 79 homes have been sold this year at an average price of $376,725, which is 95 percent of the listed price. In Nevada City, 44 homes were sold for an average price of $509,510, or 94 percent of the listed value. The third most activity in western Nevada County is at Lake Wildwood, where 32 houses were sold for an average price of $357,680, also 95 percent of the listed value.

Those numbers don’t surprise Costello, who owns Home Sweet Home mortgage brokerage in Grass Valley.

“Sellers are really hanging tough,” she said. “They are not just giving it away.”

Sieving said that while home prices have dropped about 9 percent in the past year in this area, it’s important to note that they have still nearly doubled since 2000 when the median price of a sold home was around $225,000.

To contact Staff Writer Pat Butler, e-mail pbutler@theunion.com or call 477-4239.


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