Brutal winter put chill on Berkshire real estate market

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PITTSFIELD — This winter's nasty weather, which included the coldest February since 1943, put a chill on the Berkshire County real estate market.

But sales in some areas remained strong, and there are already indications that the Berkshire market is beginning to pick up with the official start of summer three weeks away.

Realtor-assisted sales in the Berkshires dropped 37 percent during the first three months of 2015 compared to the same time frame last year, according to first quarter statistics compiled by the Berkshire County Board of Realtors.

Total sales were $47.6 million during the first quarter compared to $75.5 million during the first three months of 2014, a period that included the highest recorded residential sales in nine years. The total amount of first quarter sales this year is the lowest since the $46.1 million registered in 2010.

The total number of first quarter Realtor-assisted transactions in the Berkshires dropped by 50 from 277 to 227. The total sales figures include Realtor-assisted transactions in six categories: residential, multi-family, condominium, commercial, lots/land and mobile homes.

Total Realtor-assisted sales of residential or single-family homes in the Berkshires dropped by $26 million during the first quarter, from $65.2 million during the first three months of 2014 to $39.9 million.

According to the Board of Realtors, the inventory of homes for sale in Berkshire County during the first quarter was the lowest in five years.

Berkshire County Board of Realtors President Steven Ray said the drop in the local numbers during the first quarter mirrored similar results in other areas of the state.

"I really attribute a big part of it to the weather," Ray said. "We all experienced a first quarter that was pretty much the same with a lack of inventory and sales volume."

Berkshire County Board of Realtors President Steven Ray said the drop in the local numbers during the first quarter mirrored similar results in other areas of the state.

"I really attribute a big part of it to the weather," Ray said. "We all experienced a first quarter that was pretty much the same with a lack of inventory and sales volume."

Sales of single-family homes in the Berkshires were down 22.1 percent in January, according to the Warren Group of Boston, which tracks state real estate transactions. The Berkshire County Board of Realtors only tracks Realtor-assisted transactions.

"I think it was really pretty standard across the state and the Northeast with the weather," said Board of Realtors CEO Sandra J. Carroll. "This one was an exceptional one.

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"Comparing it to a really high year from last year with those factors combined at a perfect time to make it look like the numbers are way down," she said.

Residential sales volume did increase in Adams and Williamstown in North Berkshire, Dalton and Washington in Central Berkshire, and in Sheffield and West Stockbridge during the first quarter. Sales between $100,000 and $200,000 were strong in every market.

Despite the drop in total sales, median home values in the Berkshires were $196,250 during the first quarter, significantly lower than the $335,430 in the rest of the state. Median values in the Berkshires have increased 5 percent during the first quarter, compared to 3.8 percent in Massachusetts.

"The good news is that pending sales are up significantly," Ray said. "They tell me that we're not going to be off by 37 percent by the end of the year."

There have been signs of a turnaround in the single-family home market in April. According to the Warren Group, sales of single-family homes in the Berkshires rose 16.1 percent last month following a 28.7 percent drop in March.

Statewide, the sales of single-family homes dropped by 7.6 percent last month, the second such decrease this year, according to the Warren Group. The number of homes sold in Massachusetts last month was the lowest during the month of April since 2011.

Nationally, however, Americans have signed contracts to purchase homes in April at the fastest pace in nine years, according to the National Association of Realtors.

"After a quiet start to the year, sales activity picked up greatly throughout the country in March," said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, in a statement.

"The combination of low interest rates and the ongoing stability in the job market is improving buyer confidence and finally releasing some of the sizable pent-up demand that accumulated in recent years," Yun said.

In the Berkshires last year, Realtor-assisted sales of single-family homes tailed off after a strong first quarter, which resulted in a drop of 1,8 percent in total sales for the entire year.

Carroll said she doesn't see the same scenario transpiring this year.

"This year people have a lot of optimism for the summer ahead," she said. "That's because they're really, really busy doing the three months work that they didn't have now."

"Everybody is straight-out," she said.

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224.


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