The local real estate market is off to a strong start with a January average sale price up 12.2 percent over the prior year.

The January average price of $196,906 for Bartholomew County homes sold this year compares to $175,469 in January 2016, according to statistics maintained by Columbus-based Crossroads Association of Realtors.

That’s on top of a 11.2 percent average price increase in Bartholomew County home sales recorded between January 2015 and January 2016.

Realtors said they are also seeing a rise in home-buying activity, despite a relatively low inventory of homes available in Bartholomew County.

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“This market has taken off,” said Scott Taskey, a Realtor with Century 21 Breeden Realtors in Columbus.

Taskey said homes priced in the $100,000 to $300,000 range are the biggest sellers.

Spring-like temperatures at the start of the year have likely played a role in increasing the amount of home-sale activity, he said.

“If we list (homes), they’re selling quickly all over,” Taskey said.

Many people in the market are choosing to either downsize or purchase bigger homes depending on changing life circumstances, said Annette Donica Blythe, co-owner of RE/MAX Real Estate Professionals in Columbus.

“The needs are still there,” she said. “For most people, they desire to own a house and it’s still a good investment,” she said.

Local trends reflect statistics reported statewide by the Indiana Association of Realtors, which show increases in home sales and average sales prices across Indiana.

“Buyers are out in force right now and facing stiff competition from other interested parties,” said Cheryl Stuckwish, president of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services in Columbus, who also heads the state Realtors association.

“If you are considering buying a home this year, making a move sooner rather than later could lead to substantial savings. Demand is high and prices are following suit,” she said.

First-time home buyers

First-time home buyers Kaylee and Marshall McMahon recently purchased a residence in Seymour after a three-month search. They lived in Vincennes in southwestern Indiana before relocating.Kaylee McMahon said the couple had looked at 15 to 20 homes in the area, including seven or eight in Columbus, before deciding to buy their three-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath residence in Jackson County.

With Bartholomew County’s tight inventory of homes for sale, McMahon said it was a challenge to find Columbus area sellers willing to budge on their asking price.

In order to find a home in their affordability range, they had give up on a few desired features — she wanted a bigger kitchen, while he wanted a basement — in exchange for a bigger yard, which was a higher priority for them.

“Once you find something, you just know. And I think that’s what kind of happened with us,” McMahon said.

The 2,100-square-foot home they purchased in Seymour had an original listing price $200,000, but the McMahons were able to purchase it for $188,000.

“We found what we were looking for and put an offer on it and it kind of worked out for us,” she said.

Columbus native Jeff Bodart was also in the market recently to purchase his first home.

Bodart, who spends a majority of the year traveling on the road as a professional comedian, bought his two-bedroom house in the central part of Columbus for $73,500 in January. It was originally listed for $78,000, he said.

Also a first-time home buyer, Bodart had shared an apartment in Beech Grove.

“I wanted something of my own after paying five years of rent,” Bodart said.

Average sales prices up

The uptick in Bartholomew County average sale prices exceeded the statewide trend.Across Indiana, average sales prices increased 6.3 percent year-over-year to $160,294 in January, according to the Indiana Association of Realtors.

Stuckwish said on-the-fence sellers who aren’t sure when they want to list their home should take note of strong buyer demand and job creation taking place.

However, despite the continued demand for homes and rise in average sales prices, the Columbus area continues to see a low inventory of homes.

There were 297 active listings on the market as of Feb. 15, said Jayne Hege, association executive with the Crossroads Association of Realtors.

Bartholomew County also saw its inventory of homes for sale tumble year-over-year during the month of January.

There were 311 homes for sale in January, a drop of 41.5 percent from January 2016, when 532 homes were available.

However, it still remains a good time to purchase a home while interest rates are at current levels, said Leigh Burchyett, a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices in Columbus.

Mortgage rates fluctuate daily, but a 30-year fixed rate was available last week at 4.25 percent last week.

With inventory remaining low, Columbus can be considered as a sellers’ market depending on the price point, Burchyett said.

That would be especially true for homes in the $200,000 to $250,000 range.

“Above that, it depends on the age and the condition of the home,” she said.

Burchyett, who also serves as president of the Crossroads Association of Realtors, said many people are still seeking resale homes in the Columbus area.

The possibility of mortgage rates going up this year would have both positive and negative effects for the real estate market, she said.

It could result in potential buyers and sellers getting off the sidelines and into the real estate market, she said. But affordability could also take a hit and may impact first-time home buyers who may struggle to come up with a down payment to purchase a starter home, Burchyett said.

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com