The Essex County housing market finished the year with a surge in sales, but these sustained increases in buyer demand have not had their expected impact in driving price appreciation.
Sales. Essex sales activity recovered from a disappointing third quarter, with sales rising almost 11% from the fourth quarter of last year and finishing the calendar year up almost 5%. Buyer demand has been inconsistent throughout the year, certainly not as strong as we are seeing in neighboring Northern New Jersey counties. That said, Essex closed over 5,000 units in 2016, the largest calendar year total since the height of the last seller’s market over 10 years ago, and up almost 61% from the bottom of the market in 2011.
Prices. Essex pricing was also a bit disappointing, with the average down over 2% and the median down 3% from the fourth quarter of last year. The results were similar when we looked at the full 2016 calendar year, where prices were down over 2% on average and almost 4% at the median. This is a little surprising, given that an increase in buyer demand is usually associated with some upward pressure on pricing.
Inventory. Essex inventory fell again, falling almost 27% from last year’s fourth quarter and now down to 7.0 months. We measure “months of inventory” by calculating the number of months it would take to sell all the available homes at the current rate of absorption, and generally consider anything below six months to signal a seller’s market that would normally drive prices up. So Essex’s relatively low inventory levels raise the possibility of meaningful price appreciation in 2017.
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 by five days, and the listing retention rate was up sharply. Indeed, for the calendar year, sellers retained over 99% of their last list price. That’s another positive signal 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 low inventory levels coupled with stable buyer demand will drive modest but measurable price appreciation in 2017.