Harsh winter conditions in the beginning of 2015 slowed real estate sales compared to 2014 rates. In the first quarter of 2015, Realtor-assisted sales were $47.6 million as recorded in the Berkshire County Multiple Listing Service, with 227 transactions—down from $75.5 million dollars and 277 transactions in 2014—a 37% decrease in sales volume countywide. It should be noted that the first quarter of 2014 was exceptionally strong, with the highest recorded residential sales in the 9 years since 2006.
Steve Ray, President of the Berkshire County Board of REALTORS, was not surprised. “After a banner year in 2014, we were hit with a tough winter and all associations across the state were in the same situation. Sellers were waiting out Mother Nature to add their homes to the market and buyers were waiting for the thaw to begin an active house hunt. Once the weather warmed up, the market got very busy with new listings, our local lenders reported a surge in prequalified buyers, and as a result, our pending sales are going strong.”
Contrary to the rest of the market, Northern Berkshire’s first quarter residential sales rose 21%, up from $5.6 million in 2014 to $6.7 million this year. There were 33 residential homes sold in both 2014 and 2015 in northern Berkshire. Central Berkshire residential sales reflected a $4 million decrease, down to $14 million in sales in the first quarter of 2015. The central market reported a stable number of sales, 81 homes sold compared to 82 last year. South county sales were hit the hardest, with 80 residential homes sold and $41.5 million transacted in the first quarter of 2014, down to 54 sales valued at $19.1 million in the same period of 2015.
Mary Jane White, President of the Berkshire County MLS, says, “Statistics for the first quarter of 2015 were certainly less than we had hoped for, but frigid temperatures and unrelenting snow kept out-of-town buyers away and made home inspections very challenging. Title 5 septic inspections were costly or impossible to complete, forcing a number of sales to be postponed until spring. Finally, spring is upon us, bringing long overdue activity and enthusiasm.”
While the overall market cooled in the first quarter, as with every market, there were bright spots. Residential sales volume rose in Adams and Williamstown in Northern Berkshire; in Dalton and Washington in Central Berkshire; and in Sheffield and West Stockbridge in Southern Berkshire.
Sales between $100,000 – $200,000 were the strongest in every market in the county during the first quarter.
Ray reports that there is every reason to expect that the direction for Berkshire real estate for the rest of 2015 is up. “Market predictors for Berkshire County show we are going into the 2nd quarter with 168 sales pending. Compared to 94 at the same time in the previous year, that’s a huge boost.”
Berkshire real estate remains affordable, as compared to the rest of the state. Median home values in the Berkshires were $196,250 compared to the rest of Massachusetts at $335,430. Median values increased 5% in the Berkshires compared to 3.8% statewide.
Lawrence Yun, National Association of Realtors chief economist, says: “After a quiet start to the year, sales activity picked up greatly throughout the country in March. The combination of low interest rates and the ongoing stability in the job market is improving buyer confidence and finally releasing some of the sizable pent-up demand that accumulated in recent years.”
Mary Jane White concurs, “My colleagues from North, Central and South County all report major increases in activity with buyers coming out of hibernation. We’ve had a flurry of new listings throughout the county and the Berkshires is open for business!”