WEIRTON - The headlines from across the nation continue to make homeowners, home buyers and potential home sellers scratch their heads.
There are places in the nation where one in 10 homes is in foreclosure or in danger of being in foreclosure.
The northern tip of West Virginia isn't one of those places.
SOME GOOD NEWS — Anthony and Robin Viola of Howard Hanna Mortimer Realty in Weirton say there are bright spots in the local real estate market, which would shine even brighter if local inventories of homes for sale grew.
-- Paul Giannamore
RealtyTrac, a firm that compiles data about homes in foreclosure or pre-foreclosure, shows just three properties in Brooke County and 11 in Hancock County on its lists.
Sales figures show that, while the area did take a hit from the national economic turmoil, including the credit crunch, the hit wasn't apocalyptic economic trauma.
Home sales in Brooke and Hancock counties have dropped on an annual basis, with 393 homes being sold in 2007, the pre-crisis year, and 280 being sold in 2009.
Figures in the local Realtors database, the Tri-State Multi-Listing Service reveal sales in Hancock County and Brooke County have been relatively stable. There were 43 units sold in 2008 and 45 in 2009 in Brooke County. In Hancock County, the numbers are 109 in 2008 and 203 in 2009.
"In January in this office, we had the second biggest month of writing sales in the 12 years since we've been with Howard Hanna," said Robin Viola, Realtor and broker with Howard Hanna Mortimer Realty in Weirton. "Property is selling."
Viola noted it's not just low-priced properties that are selling either. She said there are three deals pending for more than $200,000 now, with about 10 homes over $150,000 in the process of completing a final sale or with final sales closed since December.
She said the only reason more isn't being sold is a lack of residential properties for sale.
Part of the sales action is the tax credits for first-time homebuyers and for those selling their homes hoping to move up to the next level.
First-time homebuyers are eligible for a $6,500 tax credit and there are low interest rates continuing, Viola said, the lowest in 40 years.
In addition, an expanded tax credit that became available in November has been helping current homeowners to move up. Current homeowners are eligible through April 30 to a $6,500 individual tax credit for having their sale in progress in a binding written contract by April 30 and the sale completed by July 1. Current homeowners are eligible if they earn up to $125,000 as an individual or $225,000 for couples. The limitation on the cost of the home they purchase is $800,000.
For first-time buyers, the income limits are $75,000 for single and $150,000 for married couples. To qualify, the buyer must not have had interest in a principal residence for three years. The credit is $8,000, or $4,000 for married couples filing separate returns. The purchase has to be made on or before April 30.
Viola said while Realtors are confident as an industry that the tax credits will be extended again, there is the chance they won't.
Further, she said, the recent snows have not stopped interest, an indication that people on the fence about selling shouldn't let the weather stop them.
"I have buyers looking at homes in this weather," she said.
The average home sale price in the two counties for 2009 stood at $75,000, down from $80,000, she said. The average days on the market: 202, though homes in the $50,000 to $100,000 brackets generally took around 180 days.
"We didn't have the big appreciation, so we didn't have the big hit," she said.
Viola said potential sellers need to know there is activity and the prices have stabilized.
"Don't be afraid," she said. "We're not giving houses away."
Further, she said, waiting too long could mean losing the advantage of the first-time and current homeowner tax credits, as well as the potential for changes to reduce the number of potential buyers by reducing the eligibility and assistance limits for FHA loans, which constitute the majority of buyers in the area.
The FHA's final regulations haven't been completed, but a set of proposals floated in late January include changes that would effectively double the amount of downpayment an FHA buyer would need - assistance that makes the FHA loans so popular among people having problems saving up a complete downpayment in the first place.
(Giannamore's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)