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Spring Housing Market Is Slow To Blossom

Mark Bettinson, a real estate agent in Burlington, has priced this three bedroom ranch to sell quickly. (Photo by WBUR)

Mark Bettinson, a real-estate agent in Burlington, Mass., has priced this three-bedroom ranch to sell quickly. He says the spring market is an improvement from the fall and winter. (Monica Brady-Myerov/WBUR)

BURLINGTON, Mass. — In Burlington, a three-bedroom ranch is getting spruced up for sale with some yard work.

Mark Bettinson runs Exit Premiere Realty in Burlington and he priced the house to sell quickly. It’s a simple ranch, he says. A “starter ranch” to many people.

“If you’ve got it priced fairly close to what it should sell for, it shouldn’t take more than about 45 days,” Bettinson says. “Because even in this kind of a market, when the average number of days on the market has gone up, the average is misleading, because if you are priced right from the beginning, it won’t take that long.”

And it didn’t. There were multiple offers on the house in under a month and one was accepted. In this market, it’s all about price. The average price in Burlington is up 2 percent over last year, but that’s after three years of falling values. Bettinson is encouraged by the spring market.

“It’s a good market,” he says. “Things take longer, but this is an improvement right now over what we saw in the fall and the winter when the economy was seemingly crashing around us.”

And in some towns, you wouldn’t know there’s a downturn in the market.

“Things that are priced well are selling in a weekend, sometimes with multiple offers over asking,” says Diana Segool, of Bowes Real Estate in Arlington. “It’s a pretty hot market.” Especially where the location is desirable, she says.

“I think it’s surprising. I think nobody really expected it to be like this — you know, with bidding wars and things selling the first weekend. It usually happens every spring, but I think this year no one expected it because of everything that’s going on in the economy.”

Bidding wars in this economy? Broker Amy Tierce of Fairway Independent Mortgage says to get potential buyers in the door, some agents are pricing properties low and letting buyers set the limit.

“And with that attitude, you know if we price it here, the market will bid it up,” Tierce says.

Houses and condos in towns such as Arlington, Cambridge and Lexington have held their values, and that’s boosted the overall home prices for the Boston area. The Case-Shiller Home Price Index shows home prices in the Boston area fell 8 percent from last year. It’s not much when compared with Las Vegas and Phoenix, which have seen about a 30 percent decrease in home values.

Chip Case, an economics professor at Wellesley College, says you should look at the Massachusetts housing market zip code by zip code.

“The bad places are Lawrence, Lowell, Brockton, Fall River, Fitchburg, Leominster,” he says. “Where there are a lot of foreclosure auctions. The low-end of the market in Boston went up a lot more than the high-end during the credit expansion, so it was clear that area was vulnerable.”

And buyers, especially first-timers, are able to do well in vulnerable areas. Mortgage broker Amy Tierce says she thinks the spring market has been slow to come in New England, but now it’s gaining speed.

“We are seeing a lot of first-time buyers coming out who believe for all the right reasons that this is good time to buy,” she says.

Tierce says the right reasons include lower prices, low interest rates and an $8,000 tax credit some may be eligible for. Many real-estate agents say the spring market, which typically goes through June, is picking up the pace and could extend further into the summer.

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