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Home sales pick up in March, fueling optimism

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Columbus area house sales began to climb in March in what observers say could begin a boom in spring sales.

The number of Bartholomew County home sales increased from 53 in February to 66 total in March, according to the Indiana Association of Realtors.

“It’s an excellent market for buyers and sellers,” said Cheryl Stuckwish, broker and owner of Prudential Real Estate in Columbus.

“Prices have increased, interest rates are low, employment is high and there’s high consumer confidence,” she said.

While year-over-year home sales for the entire first quarter were slightly off from last year, sellers are pocketing more as home purchases are completed.

The first-quarter median price of Bartholomew County homes rose 8.6 percent, from $140,000 last year to $152,000 this year.

Columbus ReMax realtor Vicky Gelfius said the long winter and stale housing inventory were both significant factors in house sales through the first quarter, when 159 Bartholomew County houses were sold compared to 167 during the first quarter last year.

The lingering winter was a factor in this year’s first-quarter sales, Stuckwish said, and that trend was evident statewide.

In February, there were 3,978 total sales in Indiana compared to 5,243 sales in March, according to the report.

Part of the reason for the March pickup in sales is that families with children in school typically want to move during the school vacation summer months, Stuckwish said.

“They realize they need to start that process,” she said.

Doug Fauth moved to Columbus from Carmel about a year ago but wasn’t in a hurry to buy a house and settled for an apartment.

After a year of house hunting, he bought one in March and said the market is more competitive than he originally anticipated.

“I found that it is kind of a seller’s market. A couple of the houses I was interested in got sold before I had an opportunity to make a decision,” he said. “The one I bought hit the market on Monday, I toured it on Wednesday and made an offer on Friday.”

Fauth said low interest rates and his confidence in the economy made it easier for him to pull the trigger on buying a house.

And while house sales in general went up in March, so did the number of sales on new construction.

Residential building permits issued in Bartholomew County increased from 21 in February to 25 in March, according to city and county building permit data.

More new construction would help address a housing shortage identified in a study of the Columbus market last year.

Preliminary results from the housing survey commissioned by the city’s redevelopment commission showed a need for more homes at both extremes of the economic spectrum, from those needing housing subsidies to those seeking high-end rentals.

In the survey, some major Columbus employers indicated that employees were commuting to Columbus because of the tight rental housing market, Carl Malysz, the city’s community development director, said at the time.

New-home prices in Bartholomew County ranged from $90,000 to $750,000, of which 23 were built in Columbus city limits.

Tim Pratt, co-owner of Breeden Construction, built two new homes in March and said calls about new construction and remodeling have been pouring in his office since then.

“Last year, we were fairly busy with new construction,” he said, saying the trends are continuing this year.

Pratt called Columbus a busy, strong market.

He said the local housing market has turned 180 degrees since the recession started in 2007.

Pratt said he is optimistic that the housing market for both existing and new homes will continue to grow throughout the spring and into summer.

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