The Essex County housing market started the year strong, with another increase in sales activity finally showing some impact on pricing.
Sales. Essex sales activity was up sharply from the first quarter of last year, rising almost 12% and driving the rolling year activity 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. But Essex closed over 5,000 units over the rolling year, the largest 12-month total since the height of the last seller’s market over 10 years ago, and up over 65% from the bottom of the market in 2011.
Prices. Essex buyer demand is finally showing signs of an impact on pricing. The average price was up almost 4% from the first quarter of last year. Although the median was down just a tick for the quarter, and the rolling year pricing is still down, that increase in the average price was still promising. With inventory continuing to fall and buyer demand relatively strong, we would expect prices to gain some momentum in the Spring market.
Inventory. Essex inventory fell again, dropping almost 39% from last year’s first quarter and now down to 5.8 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 the fact that Essex crossed that threshold this quarter augurs well for pricing 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 that sellers might be gaining just a little bit of negotiating leverage. The days-on-market fell by six 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 meaningful price appreciation through a robust Spring market and the rest of 2017.