Northwest Arkansas: 'Somebody Turned the Water Back On'

by Chris Bahn  on Monday, Apr. 22, 2013 12:00 am  

Building permits in the last half of 2012 rose 53 percent compared with 2011, according to the Skyline Report.  (Photo by Ryan A. Miller)

Real estate agents have a wealth of data at their disposal to describe the relative strength or weakness of their local housing markets. They can illustrate their point with sales-to-list price ratio, days on market, increase or decline in pricing and a number of other variables.

David Mix, broker and co-owner of Bassett Mix & Associates of Fayetteville, first opts for a simple, but effective description of what he is seeing these days in Washington and Benton counties.  

“It’s like somebody turned the water back on,” Mix said.

How steady the stream varies, but there are a number of indicators that business is improving for local real estate agents and builders. Home values, home sales, listings and new construction for the first quarter of 2013 are up across the region from the same period in 2012. From the last quarter of 2007 until last year, encouraging signs were few, particularly when compared to the current environment.

Bassett Mix & Associates, for example, turned in a record March with $25 million in sales. That’s more than double the previous high, Mix said, pointing out that the most encouraging part for his agency isn’t the total number but how it arrived at that number. All of the firm’s agents seem to be producing and sales aren’t limited to just a portion of the staff as they were in recent, leaner years.

“That’s a good sign,” Mix said. “You have your pockets of top producers that are always going to produce no matter what. But when your whole staff is producing, that’s when you see a good sign that the market is coming back.” 

Not every northwest Arkansas agency is breaking records, but business is improving throughout the region. Sales are up 12 percent compared with the first quarter of 2012 and 25 percent compared with 2011, according to information compiled by Paul Bynum of Building permits for the area’s four largest towns are also up from this time last year.

This continues a trend that began in the final half of last year, an improvement recently detailed in the Skyline Report, released by Arvest Bank and the Center for Business & Economic Research at the University of Arkansas’ Walton College of Business. Released in March, that study reported a 53 percent increase in building permits for the final half of 2012 compared with 2011. Existing home sales were up nearly 7.5 percent for both Benton and Washington counties, leading Todd White, senior vice president and loan production manager at Arvest Mortgage Co., to declare that northwest Arkansas could soon become a “seller’s market.”

Kathy Deck, director of the Center for Business & Economic Research, said an upswing in the local economy as a whole is helping fuel optimism among buyers. Confidence in the economy and a willingness to invest in new or larger homes is improving right behind job growth. Unemployment in the area is at 5.8 percent, 28 percent below the national average. 

“When we look at the northwest Arkansas economy right now, you really see an economy firing on all cylinders,” Deck said. “You see an economy that is seeing year-over-year job growth … and that leads to good things for construction. Those increases in construction do good things for other industries and it really gets into a nice, virtuous cycle.”

Housing is doing its part to keep the momentum positive.

Relocation of buyers has helped keep the supply of new houses on the rise. And real estate agents note an increase in first-time buyers, who had been afraid to buy during the national economic downturn.



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