Better job stability has helped Trumbull County Realtors do something they haven't done in three years - start a year with three straight months of better sales than the previous year.
"We just ordered signs for the first time in three years,'' Yvonne Smith, who is serving as this year's president of the Warren Area Board of Realtors, said of the county's 151 home sales in March. "I had to ask how much are signs these days because we haven't ordered any for so long."
The sales number pushed the three-month total to 356, surpassing 327 last year, 350 in 2010 and 308 in 2009.
Tribune Chronicle /Larry Ringler
Yvonne Smith, president of the Warren Area Board of Realtors, puts a sign in front of a house for sale on Kenilworth, S.E., Warren. Smith had to order more signs due to increased sales in March.
Only the first quarter of 2008 was stronger with 366 sales. However, sales blew past the 126 in March 2008, as the Great Recession began to unfold.
Another encouraging note was a gain in median - midpoint of the range of sales - selling price to $69,500, crushing the $42,900 posted a year ago.
The number, which suggests buyer interest may be expanding beyond the cheapest distressed housing, is the best for a March since $85,418 in 2008. The median price has ranged from $42,900 in March 2011 to $76,500 in July 2011.
The county's highest median housing price of the Great Recession era was $93,600 in December 2007 - the month when economists say the Great Recession began but had yet to slam the market.
Smith credited the gain to more confident consumers, thanks to expected payouts of hundreds of millions of dollars to local land owners for leases to drill in the Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas formations.
The natural gas boom also is projected to create thousands of good-paying jobs in the Mahoning Valley. Those jobs, along with stability at the carmaking General Motors Co. Lordstown Complex, is attracting buyers, Smith said.
"People on the fence are ready to make a move. Interest rates are still so low, and (houses are) inexpensive coming out of winter," she said.
Experts warn not to predict a trend from one or two months, but continued strength in unit sales and price often lead to rising prices.
If it holds, improvement in the housing market would be the last of four local economic indicators to show strength.
Vehicle sales in March posted their best performance in at least eight months, with new-vehicle title registrations in Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties hitting 2,344 and used-vehicle title registrations reaching 4,550.
Retail sales, as tracked by Trumbull County's permissive sales tax receipts had their best January in more than four years at $1.67 million.
Unemployment fell to 8.5 percent in the county and 8.9 percent in Warren, although some of that stemmed from discouraged jobless workers giving up looking for employment and falling out of the labor market.