Winter weather and heavy snowfall disrupted U.S. housing markets in January, but so did higher flood insurance rates and other economic factors, the National Association of Realtors said Friday.
Existing home sales in the U.S. fell 5 percent to an 18-month low, a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.62 million.
In South Jersey, Atlantic County sales dropped slightly in January (9 fewer homes) than one year ago, according to regional Multiple Listing Service data. Cape May County saw 32 more sales of MLS-listed homes; Cumberland County, 17 more.
Unlike the national market, where the median sales price rose nearly 11 percent in January, the median sales price dropped in some local markets.
Among just single-family homes in Atlantic County, the median price was $185,500, about 11 percent less than a year ago, according to data from the New Jersey Association of Realtors.
In Cape May County, the median for a single-family home was $262,500, a 19 percent reduction from January 2013. In Cumberland County, the median increased by about 9 percent, to $135,000.
The median means half of homes sold for less, half for more. In New Jersey overall, the median price increased 5 percent to $289,900.
Nationally, the weather was not the only thing disrupting housing markets. Higher home prices, rising mortgage rates and tight credit are also playing a factor, NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said.
"These issues will hinder home sales activity until the positive factors of job growth and new supply from higher housing starts begin to make an impact," he said.
NAR President Steve Brown said higher flood insurance rates are also affecting sales in flood zones, which make up about 8 percent to 9 percent of sales.
Susan Carr, a Realtor and sales associate at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, Realtors, in Northfield, said she personally had more closings in January (six) than she's had in many months.
"I had some canceled showings because of the weather, but people were still out looking. And sellers are still looking to sell if they want to downsize," Carr said.
Her area of focus is predominantly inland, but includes some coastal properties. In some cases, low elevations and costlier flood insurance policies may be discouraging sales, but not all the time, she said.
"I closed something a few weeks ago in Ocean City, a duplex, and they weren't afraid of the higher flood insurance because they got a really good deal on the house," she said.
James M. Rixey, broker of record at Rixey Real Estate Agency in Cape May Court House, said he saw a slight uptick earlier this year that has quieted down.
"One week we think it's turning around, the next week it's quiet again. There's no rhyme or reason," he said.
Rixey said he has seen a small rise in properties under contract, including those in the $300,000 to $400,000 range.
In South Jersey, there is a lot of inventory on the market - about double the state average of 7.1 months' supply of single-family homes in January. At current sales rates the exiting inventory would take 14.5 months to sell in Atlantic County; 15.4 months in Cape May County; and 13.6 months in Cumberland County, according to New Jersey Association of Realtors data.
In Atlantic County, there were 685 new listings for single-family homes, townhouses and adult community homes in January, a 6 percent increase from the previous January.
Meanwhile, new listings fell nearly 13 percent in Cape May County and about 12 percent in Cumberland County last month.
Contact Brian Ianieri:
Area home sales
Jan. 2014 Dec. 2013 Jan. 2013
Atlantic County 160 203 169
Cape May County 157 239 125
Cumberland County 50 53 33
Source: Regional Multiple Listing Service data