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Local housing sales fall, but not as much as realtors' association expected

The  local housing market saw slower sales last year, with the impact of the pandemic. But the Greater Rochester Association of Realtors says the main issue is still how many houses are available for sale.

Data for sales of existing homes in the region for 2020 was released on Thursday.

With the limits placed on how realtors could show houses due to COVID-19 early last year, it had an impact on home buying. That plus the uncertainty of the economy affected buyers, according to Lanie Bittner, who is president of the local realtors association.

But Bittner said that when the numbers are tallied up from 2020 overall, she was pleasantly surprised that sales of existing homes were only down 4.9%. Home sales slowed substantially by the end of the first quarter due to the pandemic, but the association said that strong buyer demand helped the market rebound in the second half of 2020.

Bittner said the main issue continues to be one that has affected this area and other markets for several years, a lack of available inventory.

"I definitely think pent-up demand was a significant part of it. You can see in the statistics that in the past two years, we’ve continued to see a decrease in the number of homes for sale in our area, (with an) increase in prices, so we still have that demand."

And simple economics affected home prices. With the housing inventory lower, it helped to push prices up.  For 2020, in the Greater Rochester area, the median sales price of a house was up 9.2%.  Bittner said sales could pick up this year if there is more inventory coming onto the market and if the pandemic eases.

The realtors association report said that inventory of homes for sale in 2020 fell 43.7% compared to 2019. But Bittner notes that sharp drop is a year-end snapshot.  She thinks a more accurate reflection of housing inventory for 2020 is the number of new listings. That number was down 10.9%.

Bittner said new home construction is on the rise locally, but isn’t enough yet to make up the difference between buyer demand and the supply of existing homes.

The realtors group also reported another trend in 2020, an increase in the number of buyers looking to purchase a second home, with some area residents looking for homes along a lakefront to provide a nearby getaway.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.