Strong Home Prices

Home prices in most metropolitan areas grew significantly in the third quarter, with the national median price rising at its fastest annual clip in nearly eight years, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

During the same period, existing homes sold at the fastest annual rate recorded in more than six years, according to NAR’s latest quarterly report on metro area median prices and affordability.

Despite the robust price growth, NAR estimated that potential buyers still had adequate income in most areas to purchase a home in the third quarter. Nonetheless, market momentum is changing, according to Lawrence Yun, chief economist at NAR.

“Rising prices and higher interest rates have taken a bite out of housing affordability,” Yun said. “However, we have the ongoing situation of more buyers than sellers in the market, so lower sales will help to take the pressure off home price growth and allow them to rise slowly at a single-digit growth rate in 2014.”

The national median existing single-family home price increased by 12.5 percent year over year to $207,300 in the third quarter, the strongest year-over-year gain since the fourth quarter of 2005 when it shot up 13.6 percent, according to the trade group.

In the second quarter, the median price reportedly rose 12.2 percent year over year. Meanwhile, NAR said existing-home sales jumped 5.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.36 million in the third quarter from 5.06 million in the second quarter.

On an annual basis, they reportedly increased 13 percent. The third-quarter pace of sales was the highest recorded since the first quarter of 2007, when it hit 5.66 million, NAR said.The report’s findings also highlighted the market’s sharp inventory shortage. At the rate of sales in the third quarter, the existing-home inventory of 2.21 million homes for sale would have cleared in just five months, down from 5.9 months in the third quarter of 2012.

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Staging Tips for the Holidays

It’s the time of year that calendars are packed with holiday parties, budgets are strained by gift-giving and the roads are covered in freshly fallen snow. Alas, ’tis not the season for real estate. But the good news is that the few brave house-hunters who do venture out are serious about buying a house and stylish trimmings will make them want to ring in the new year in your home.

“Holidays can be personal on a lot of levels, but you want to make sure your decor is neutral,” advises Amy Powers, owner of Accent Home Staging & Interiors of Atlanta. “You want to romance your buyer, not invite them to your Christmas party.”

Try these tips to get buyers in the right spirit:

  • Clean and stage. “Before you decorate, your house needs to be staged,” Powers says. If your living room is already piled high with clutter and your ceramic reindeer collection is only going to add to the sense of overcrowding.
  • Create a cozy vibe. The less-is-more mantra of home staging may tempt you to forgo holiday cheer this year. But a few subtle touches like a bowl of pinecones, an evergreen wreath, or a pot of cider simmering on the stove can create a warm and festive feeling in your home.
  • Complement your palette. Before you start untangling your tinsel, make sure your holiday collection matches your current decor. If your living room is painted a soothing ocean-blue hue, skip the clashing red garland and opt for white  snowflakes or a silver glass-ball wreath. If you’ve got an earthy color scheme, accent with rich tones like cranberries, forest greens and gold.
  • Accentuate the positive. Too many trimmings may distract buyers, but the right accessories can draw attention to your home’s best features. Dangle mistletoe in an arched doorway, or display your menorah on the ledge of a bay window; just don’t block a beautiful view with stick-on snowflake decals or clutter an elegant fireplace with personalized stockings.
  • Go light on lights. Step away from the inflatable snowman, Clark Griswold. One man’s “merry” is another man’s “tacky,” so tone down any garish light displays while your home is on the market. (No, your neighbors didn’t pay us to say that.) Instead, use simple string lighting to play up your home’s architecture or draw attention to the gorgeous fir tree in your front yard.
  • Be an equal-opportunity decorator. Leave the life-sized Nativity scene in storage this year, because overtly religious flourishes may be off-putting to some buyers. “You want to keep neutrality throughout, so you can attract any type of buyer,” Powers says. Not sure what qualifies? Powers adds, “No matter what your religion is, you’re not going to feel offended by a nutcracker.”
  • Mind the tree. A tall Christmas tree can help you show off your two-story great room, but make sure the wide base won’t overwhelm the floor space. If your living area is on the small side, save space with a skinny tree. Swap the gaudy heirloom ornaments and trim your tree in a cohesive theme such as icicle lights and silver tinsel, for example, or blue and gold glass balls.
  • Clear the clutter. A few decorations can stir the holiday spirit, but don’t feel obliged to hang every last ornament. “A lot of people, when they decorate, tend to use all the extra space in their house,” Powers says. “You still want each space to look as spacious as possible.” Limit yourself to a few hints of holiday flair, but stash the rest in the basement for now. If you start to miss your Santa figurines, just remember that with a little luck, you’ll be celebrating next year’s holidays in a new home. And you can decorate that place any way you please.