The Essex County housing market was a mass of contradictions in the third quarter of 2016, with sales down but prices up.
Sales. Essex activity continued to disappoint in the third quarter, with transactions down almost 3% from last year. This marked the first quarter of year‑on‑year sales declines in almost two years, breaking a six‑quarter streak of sales growth. After a robust beginning to the year, Essex is now significantly underperforming its neighboring counties, with the rolling year sales up only about 3%, well below what we’re seeing elsewhere in the region.
Prices. Even with the slackening of activity, prices showed some signs of life. The average price was up about 4%, with the median up just a tick. This was welcome news to Essex homeowners, since we had seen prices go down over the past two quarters. The overall picture, though, is not promising, with rolling year pricing down over 1% on average and almost 5% at the median.
Inventory. The “months of inventory” indicator measures how long it would take to sell out the existing inventory of homes at the current rate of home sales. In the industry, we generally consider anything below six months as a signal for a seller’s market, where tight inventory leads to multiple offer situations, bidding wars, and ultimately appreciating prices. Essex continues to see declining inventory, falling almost 18% in the quarter down to under seven months. That’s a pretty tight market, so we would normally expect to see some upward pressure on pricing.
Negotiability. The negotiability indicators – the amount of time sold homes were on the market, and the rate at which sellers were able to retain their full asking price – suggested the sellers might be gaining just a little bit of negotiating leverage. The days‑on‑market fell just a day, but the listing retention rate was up to almost 100%. Those are both positive signals of potential future appreciation.
Going forward, we expect that Essex County’s sales activity will eventually have a meaningful impact on pricing. With homes still at historically affordable prices, interest rates low, and a generally improving economy, we believe that buyer demand will strengthen and drive modest but meaningful price appreciation in 2017.