Northwest Arkansas was not immune to the recession that popped the housing bubble and resulted in a dip of 20 percent or more in real estate values across the nation over the past two years.
With those lower values, now is an attractive time to buy a house because of reduced prices and low mortgage rates, experts say.
Construction surplus has been whittled down, and the housing market stands balanced to meet demand at attractive lower median prices, according to information from the Arkansas Realtors Association and a survey commissioned by a local bank.
The Skyline Report, a quarterly survey of the residential real estate markets of Benton and Washington counties conducted by the Sam M. Walton College of Business’ Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, found 1,020 houses sold during December of 2009 and January and February of this year. That’s up 22.4 percent from the number of houses sold during the same period last year.
Kathy Deck, economist and director of the center, said the housing market should remain positive for the rest of the year.
The Arkansas Realtors Association in June reported that Northwest Arkansas had 5,786 new and existing houses on the multiple listing service. The median list price for those homes was $159,900.
Compared with the rest of Arkansas, Northwest Arkansas ranks second in median price, behind central Arkansas at $163,950. Central Arkansas had 5,562 houses listed with the association.
Overall, the state reported 13,356 houses for sale on listing services.
A simple search of the listing service on June 15 found 1,775 houses listed at $175,000 or less in Benton County and 1,037 houses listed in the same range in Washington County.
Limiting the price range to between $150,000 and $175,000 pares the number of houses down to 326 in Benton County and 215 in Washington County.
What $159,900 buys
At the median price of $159,900, Benton County offers several houses in a variety of communities.
In Bella Vista, a home under construction provides 1,800 square feet with three bedrooms and two bathrooms for $159,900. Amenities include granite counters, walk-in closets and a central vacuum system.
In Bentonville, $159,900 will buy a 2,004-square-foot home built in 1989. The three-bedroom, three-bath house features cathedral ceilings, a skylight and wood-burning fireplace.
In Rogers, a remodeled 1972-built home features a spectacular view of Beaver Lake along with 2,042 square feet is listed at the median price. The three-bedroom, two-bath home has tongue-and-groove ceilings, wood flooring and a huge wrap-around deck.
Washington County offers some good deals on median-priced houses, too.
In Fayetteville, there’s a four-bedroom, two-bath home with 1,672 square feet built in 2006. Granite counters, whirlpool tub and a large privacy-fenced backyard are included.
For someone looking for history, a 1926 cottage in Prairie Grove offers 2,634 square feet close to city schools. Three bedrooms and three baths and a huge garage with a tiled floor are included in the modernized home.
Anyone looking to capitalize on foreclosed homes could land a four-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath house in Springdale. The 2,320-square-foot home was built in 2005 and features a gourmet kitchen, gas fireplace and park-like setting for the median price.
The vacancy rate for apartments and other multifamily units in Northwest Arkansas was 14.36 percent at the end of March, the most recent data available through Streetsmart Data Services.
Fayetteville, the city with the most rental units, had a vacancy rate of nearly 18 percent for two-bedroom units and 16 percent for one-bedroom units, making for an overall vacancy rate of about 17 percent, Streetsmart reported. Springdale had an overall vacancy rate of 14 percent; Rogers-Lowell had more than 12 percent; Bentonville-Centerton had more than 10 percent; and Siloam Springs had an overall rate of about 7 percent, Streetsmart reported.
Although economic theory holds that prices go down when supply exceeds demand, the average rental rates remained unchanged at the end of March compared with the end of December, Streetsmart reported.
At the end of 2009, the average rental price per square foot was 63 cents a month, the Skyline Report stated in January. Streetsmart did not provide an average price per square foot.
In the past, people who prefer to rent faced a laundry list of apartment communities, condominium companies and websites to search for a new residence.
A website, Lease2you.com cq, is trying to provide a one-stop-shopping option for renters in Northwest Arkansas.
Created by local real estate broker Kirk Elsass cq about eight years ago as an independent site to better manage his own rental properties, he discovered the website works best when used by more people.
“There are more people renting now than there were a year ago,” Elsass said. “And for a lot of different reasons. They might be moving here and can’t sell their house back home.”
The website allows renters to search for properties by availability date, size, price or location.
Monthly rental prices for the 13 condos listed on the website on June 15 ranged from $550 to $1,400, with three listed at the median $900.
Of those three condos, two were in Rogers and offered four bedrooms in 1,690 square feet with an attached two-car garage.
The other, a Fayetteville listing, has two bedrooms with 1,296 square feet on two levels overlooking Paradise Valley Golf Course.
The rental market for houses, condos and larger properties is very strong right now, Elsass said.
“I have 85 properties I manage and I’m pretty much full right now,” he said.
But vacancy rates up to 20 percent in the apartment market in some areas of Northwest Arkansas has some influence on rental houses and condos, he said.
“I’ve spoken with others in the business and there are a few vacancies here and there,” Elsass said.
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