Real estate sales post record year

There are fewer "For Sale" signs out these days as buyers begin to snap up Wallowa County real estate. Real estate sales are on the verge of exceeding $19 million in what several brokers are describing as a banner year. Photo illustration by Kim Lamb

After a couple years of sluggishness the real estate market is looking up.

So say some of Wallowa County's real estate professionals, who are reporting a banner year.

"This has been exceptional ... the best I've seen in 10 years," said Ken Wick, a broker-owner at Real Estate Associates in Joseph.

Wick said that many of his industry colleagues are saying the same thing.

"We're quite a bit stronger than we were last year," added John Gorsline of Wallowa Mountain Properties, referring to the health of the local market. Wallowa Mountain Properties just completed a year of record sales as well.

So did Daggett and Associates, a GMAC real estate franchise in Enterprise.

"I'd say the market is pretty strong right now," said Lee Daggett, owner of the company. "I've really noticed it the last 60 days."

Or, as Wallowa County appraiser Randy Wortman puts it: "A lot of the real estate people are real tickled right now."

The upbeat attitude of real estate professionals signals a bright spot in an economy that has had its challenges the past several years - mill closures, agricultural setbacks, record unemployment, an out-migration of working families, and a downturn in the state and national economies.

In spite of these trends, slowly but surely, real estate is beginning to move.

With only one week remaining in 2002, 157 properties have been sold for a total of $18.8 million. And the number of properties for sale has fallen significantly, from 370 a year ago to 322 currently.

People close to the market say a number of factors are at play.

"My sense is that a lot of people are looking at real estate as a safe haven," Wortman said, noting that the stock market is poised to post its third consecutive year of losses. "People are stashing money in real estate instead of the stock market."

Interest rates, now at 30-year lows, are also helping to move the market.

"I think some buyer's don't have confidence that these low interest rates are going to hold," said Daggett. "They want to get a deal and lock it in."

Mortgage lending has never been more competitive, Daggett added. He said 100 percent conventional loans are now widely available, meaning that buyers do not have to come up with a down payment.

"You can have a couple dings on your credit and still get a 100 percent loan at 6.7 percent," he said.

Gorsline noted that many of the buyers he is seeing "are not dependent" on local jobs, a trend that the other brokers have noticed as well.

Increasingly, retirees, telecommuters, entrepreneurs, and others who can live and work anywhere they choose are choosing Wallowa County and its quality of life.

With some additional help from marketing over the Internet, buyers are coming from all over - Virginia, Northern California, Bend.

"We are now getting buyers from outside the United States," Daggett added.

Another factor that is helping sales is price. Sellers "are getting more realistic on their pricing," said Wick, who has seen some buyers reduce their asking price by as much as 40 percent in the past year.

For example, one Enterprise property that was first listed on the market at $225,000 recently sold for $150,000, according to Jerry Harris, an agent at Real Estate Associates.

"It was a steal," he said.

That is especially true within the boundaries of Wallowa County's incorporated cities, where sales have been the slowest. But even those properties are starting to move.

Small acreages and places at Wallowa Lake have been and continue to be the ones most in demand - and most expensive.

Wortman said that the market value of Wallowa Lake properties increased 11 percent in the last year alone.

"A lot of these recreational properties are really jacking up in price," he said, adding, "That totally astounded me."

Some say the prices of recreational property are too high.

"Outside the cities we're higher than Coeur 'd Alene right now," Daggett compared to the Idaho resort town. "I have people telling me we're as high as Sun Valley."

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