The housing market was rebounding steadily in the first nine months of the year - before the storm, Prudential Fox & Roach research and local agents say.

And after the devastating bump in that rebound road named Hurricane Sandy, home sales and prices are expected to keep improving.

But for now, property sale agreements are being held up until lenders can be assured the buildings weren't flood- or wind-damaged.

"In light of the storm, the mortgage companies are now saying that if we have impending settlements, we need to re-inspect the home before they'll loan the money," said Margaret Guber-Nulty, office manager of Prudential Fox's Margate office.

James Boyle Jr., a broker/salesperson with the company's large Northfield office, said every property under contract in Atlantic and Cape May counties - and probably far beyond - must be re-inspected before the deal can close.

"I was supposed to have a closing today," Boyle said Wednesday. "The mortgage guy texted me Monday, so we'll probably end up pushing it off a week or something."

Guber-Nulty said some real estate offices - such as hers - are also dealing with their own damages.

"My office is pretty well destroyed. We took about 3 feet of water," she said Wednesday as she waited to be allowed to return to the island where she works and lives in Margate.

Both saw the storm and its destruction as a temporary setback to a housing market that this year is finally recovering from a far larger crisis, the 2006 collapse of the property bubble and subsequent severe recession.

"We'll be better than ever in a couple of months," she said. "The real estate market is still going to be strong on the barrier island. There may be some good values, though."

Boyle said he didn't think the storm would change "the hard facts in the market in general."

Those facts look pretty good for the first nine months of the year in the Prudential Fox & Roach HomExpert Market Report.

In Atlantic County, the number of home sales increased more than 12 percent to 2,079, while the median price was off slightly to $194,000, according to the report's analysis of TREND Multiple Listing Service data.

Throughout the Delaware Valley footprint of Prudential Fox & Roach, including the greater Philadelphia area, southern New Jersey and Delaware, sales increased 14 percent and prices remained flat.

Steve Storti, senior vice president of marketing for Prudential Fox & Roach, said the year began strong for home sales and the industry wondered whether that was due to the unusually mild winter.

"But the improvement has continued, up until now. The first nine months of the year represent a bottoming of the market, a turnaround," Storti said.

If the pent-up demand for houses, abnormally low interest rates and news of an improving economy continue, he said, the rebound will continue next year.

"The low point was 2011. We appear to have turned a definite corner in 2012," Storti said.

Prudential Fox & Roach - the nation's largest Prudential affiliate with 55 sales locations and 3,700 associates in the tri-state area - has seen increases higher than the market average, he said.

"We're well beyond our goal for the year," he said. "We're normally a little better than the market, but right now we're significantly ahead, probably 3 (percent) to 5 percent ahead."

Boyle, 35, of Egg Harbor Township, said inventory of available houses has tightened this year as buyers have returned to the market.

Many sellers now react to low-ball offers by deciding to rent their properties for a year or two, he said, which also reduces inventory.

For these reasons, both Boyle and Storti said, the state Supreme Court-created backlog of foreclosures starting to hit the market will move faster than the first wave of foreclosures.

"In 2010, there was no demand for them, but now there is demand, so I think they will get absorbed relatively quickly," Boyle said.

Another popular distressed-sale method - short sales, in which the lender accepts less than is owed on the mortgage - are getting done in four or five months now, he said, after taking a year or more in 2010.

He said the housing market could get thrown off track by external events - for example, if political gridlock in Washington extinguishes the nation's slow economic growth.

"But all indications are we're at the bottom and starting to pick ourselves up," Boyle said.

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Atlantic County home sales 2011-12

Sales, median prices and days on the market for houses

in Atlantic County, through the first nine months of each year.

Year Sales Median price Days on market

2011 1,852 $195,000 135

2012 2,079 $194,000 133

Source: Prudential Fox & Roach HomExpert Market Report