Sunday December 30, 2012

The Boston Globe

A surge in home sales in November and strengthening property values are adding to a growing sentiment in the real estate industry that 2012 will mark when the housing market in Massachusetts officially began its recovery.

With the supply of available properties still thin, homes are selling quickly and prices are edging up, prompting real estate specialists to predict that the days of bargain prices for residences are likely to be over soon.

"This year marks the shift in housing," said John Ranco of Hammond Residential Real Estate in South Boston. "Over the next couple of years we will start to see prices heat up a little bit."

Last month, 4,539 single-family properties traded owners -- the best November for sales since the market peak in 2005, the Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks local real estate, reported Thursday.

Strongest since 2006

The number of single-family home sales through the first 11 months of 2012 exceeded that of all of last year, and the year will probably be the strongest since 2006.

Through the first 11 months of the year, home prices were about where they were for 2011 -- at a median price of $288,000 -- a trend that industry officials said represents a stabilized market.

In the more active market in Greater Boston, median prices were 1.1 percent above where they were in 2011, at $456,500 for single-family properties, B-according to the Boston Association of Realtors.

It’s been seven years since the housing market in Massachusetts first showed signs of slowing, and during the steepest period of the downturn values plunged 20 percent, the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices show. Prices have since rebounded modestly, though values have also bounced during the past three years.

There are still many unknowns that could turn the market around.

However, Eric Belsky, managing director of Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, said he foresees a strong spring season, propelled by tight inventory and low mortgage rates. He also expects markets outside of Boston to strengthen.

"It feels like a housing market that has now switched into the mode of helping drive a recovery," Belsky said.