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economy in recovery: The local housing market is finally starting to see some signs of growth

by: JASON CHANEY/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - During the past few months, local home prices have steadily risen, and overall sales have improved.

During the past few years, the Crook County housing market has struggled mightily.
   House prices dropped by tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, sales plummeted, and foreclosed homes flooded the market.
   However, recent trends locally and nationwide seemingly indicate a rebound has finally begun.
   “Phones are ringing. I am showing a ton of homes. I have got a ton of stuff in escrow,” said Bob Layne, a broker with The Associates Real Estate, in Prineville. “It seems like people are spending more money.”
   Layne tracks real estate statistics for Crook County and the rest of the Central Oregon area, and some of the numbers similarly show an uptick in business. First quarter home sales in Crook County increased 18.74 percent from 2011 to 2012.
   “In general, I think we have seen a turn,” Layne said. “I think we have bounced off the bottom of the market, unless some catastrophe happens that sinks us again.”
   At the same time, local home prices have begun to steadily climb. The average median home price rose from $70,500 in the first quarter of 2011 to $79,200 in quarter one of 2012 – a 12.34 percent increase.
   According to Layne, the bottom market (homes listed for less than $100,000) is drying up fast, which has, in part, prompted the change. During the past three years, Crook County realtors have sold an average of 44 homes for $100,000 or less per quarter. But now, 23 Crook County homes in that price range remain.
   Concurrently, banks have added foreclosed homes to the market at a much slower pace. As of last week, only 10 bank-owned homes remained on the Crook County market.
   Despite ongoing economic struggles in Crook County, the rising home prices have not reduced sales or buyer interest.
   “What I am seeing is that people are spending more money to get the homes,” Layne stated. “I have less people looking for the cheapest home on the block.” He added that more people seem willing to pay more for a home in move-in-ready condition.
   “I think that it’s just an overall feeling,” Layne offered as an explanation. “Everybody has kind of let their breath out and relaxed a little bit.”
   As it turns out, the improving Crook County housing market may be part of a nationwide trend in the industry. According to an economic forecast conducted by the National Association for Business Economics, housing starts are expected to increase 18 percent nationwide in 2012. Furthermore, the forecast shows continued improvement in 2013. The forecast also predicted an 8.8 percent increase in residential investment.
   So far, the Crook County housing market, though improving, will not likely see many housing starts in the near future.
   A landowner recently sought approval from the City of Prineville Planning Commission to prepare a piece of Prineville land for a subdivision. According to City Senior Planner Josh Smith, the owner did everything but create the individual lots. Despite these actions, the landowner has shown no intent to subdivide the land and build homes in the near future — and Smith is not surprised.
   “There are so many lots already just sitting there ready to go,” he said, mentioning the IronHorse and Crystal Springs subdivisions specifically. “It wouldn’t make sense for someone to subdivide into individual lots right now,” he said.