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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Realtor Krista Gorrell, right, chats with client Beth Gilmore in a basement of a home for sale on Applewood Road.

Potential homebuyers facing slim pickings

Inventory dips; wary owners lack interest in selling properties

– Call it a housing holdup.

The U.S. housing market faces an unusual situation heading into the spring buying season – people aren’t selling their homes.

The reasons vary, but one constant is the frustration among prospective buyers and their brokers. The most recent figures from the Upstate Alliance of Realtors show the Fort Wayne area following suit with the rest of the country. In February, there were 14.2 percent fewer new listings or 670 houses, compared with 781 homes during the same month a year earlier. Year-to-date figures reveal a 16.5 percent drop or 1,370 homes, compared with 1,640 houses last year.

Upstate, which tracks data from Allen, Adams, DeKalb, Huntington, Noble, Wells and Whitley counties, said 357 homes sold in February, down from 432 in February 2013. The average sale price was $117,878.

“We’re definitely starved for inventory,” said Teresa Kaylor, a Century 21 Bradley associate broker who works in Huntington. “Some people are still upside down in their mortgages, but I try to tell people that now’s the time to buy, baby, because interest rates won’t stay this low.”

J. Kyle Ness is president of the Upstate Alliance. The broker said he doesn’t recall the housing market having pickings this slim.

“We’re dealing with a lack of inventory we’ve never dealt with before,” Ness said. “It’s just been a blood bath for new construction because we had a really tough winter. I joke that we had December and December and December.”

Still, Ness believes pent-up demand exists and the local housing market should help spring sales finish strong.

“March should see an increase, and I think we’ll be way ahead of schedule in April,” he said.

Until then, Krista Gorrell will keep at it. The Century 21 Bradley real estate agent said many homeowners want to put up the For Sale sign, but they don’t want to get caught holding nothing but the sign.

“They’re scared to list homes because they’re afraid they won’t be able to find something they want,” said Gorrell, who had at least a pair of showings Friday. “As soon as something goes on the market it goes because the inventory is so low.”

Help is on the way.

The Thomas family proposed two housing additions this week. Developer Jeff Thomas wants to establish a $6 million subdivision on the north side of St. Joe Center Road. The 61-home addition would have ranch-style homes ranging from $160,000 to $280,000. His father, Mike, wants to build a $20 million, 197-unit luxury housing addition on the south side of West Gump Road. He said homes could range from $350,000 to $600,000.

Westley Falcaro, an independent Fort Wayne broker, said the buyers are out there.

“Things are rebounding,” she said. “The long winter actually may have helped us because now people have cabin fever and want to get out.”

It would help, of course, if there are homes available and affordable.

Nationally, a 13.4 percent jump in the average price of a home sold last year, according to the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city index, hasn’t managed to coax more homeowners to sell. And combined with higher mortgage rates, higher prices have made homes costlier for first-time buyers as well as for all-cash investors.

Average prices nationally are expected to rise by single digits this year. The gains could be strongest in areas with solid job growth, such as Seattle and Austin, Texas. And while construction will put more homes on the market, lack of affordability could keep sales flat to falling.

On the other hand, many lenders are easing the barriers for those with less-than-sterling credit. For these people, qualifying for a mortgage could become a little easier.

Falcaro also is president of the Lafayette Place Improvement Association. She said homes in her south-side neighborhood are definitely affordable.

“I’d say most are in the mid-90s,” she said. “The great thing about our area is that all the homes don’t look alike.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.