WAILUKU - First-quarter real estate statistics released by the Realtors Association of Maui don't draw a clear picture of what's happening with the buying and selling of homes and condominiums in Maui County.
The number of single-family sales are up, a bit. Condo sales are down, somewhat. Average sale prices for homes are up; condos are down. Then, it's the reverse for median prices in those categories.
While the figures point this way and that, it is clear that the inventory of properties is low and more buyers are looking to make deals - but not enough to begin pushing sales prices higher right away, according to Realtors interviewed Wednesday.
Realtor Bill Buffington of ERA Pacific Properties snaps interior photos Tuesday afternoon of a bank-owned Maui Lani home set to go on the market. Foreclosed homes continue to affect Maui’s real estate market, although Realtors report that more buyers are gaining confidence about the economy and are shopping for properties.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
First, here are the numbers, comparing the first three months of this year with the same period last year:
* The number of sales for single-family homes was up 3 percent this year from 202 to 208 homes. The average sales price of a home rose 8 percent to $733,748, and the median sales price dropped 1 percent to $444,000. The total dollar volume of sales rose 11 percent to $152.6 million.
* The number of condominium sales went down 3 percent from 310 to 300 units. The average condo sales price fell 10 percent to $442,255, and the median price ticked up 6 percent to $340,000. Total sales volume dropped 13 percent to $132.7 million.
According to the association's statistics, the largest number of sales of single-family homes in the first quarter of this year was in Central Maui with 56 sales, the same number as the same three months last year. The average sale price for a home was $401,098, about the same as the $399,440 price last year. The median price in Central Maui was $371,000, down 3 percent from a year earlier.
A third of condominium sales in the first quarter were 101 in Kihei, the most active area. There, the average sale price was $335,703, up 4 percent from a year earlier. And the median condo price was $240,000, down 8 percent.
"The statistics don't seem to show a big change," said Bob Lightbourn, president of the Realtors Association of Maui and broker in charge of the Paia office of Coldwell Banker Island Properties.
"The market's recovering," he said. "It's going to be a slow recovery, but I think it is recovering."
ERA Pacific Properties Realtor Bill Buffington, who has helped buy and sell real estate on Maui since 1999, said his worst year for business was when the recession hit in 2008. Since then, he's seen gradual improvement each year.
Real estate buyers are less worried about a double-dip recession or whether the real estate market is stable, and now "people see the stabilization" of the economy, Buffington said.
Alana Rucynski, also of ERA Pacific Properties, said she did most of her business in foreclosures and short sales until this year, when she's beginning to deal with properties that are not distressed in some way.
Now, she said that, in general, "clients are a little more relaxed about the economy," and there's "less panic."
All three said there's less inventory for buyers to choose from. In its monthly newsletter, the Realtors Association notes that property inventories have declined 14 to 22 percent in the past 12 months in the residential and condominium categories.
"All the agents are out there with buyers, looking, looking and looking," Buffington said. "And there's just not a lot available." And, for the few available properties, there's multiple offers, he added.
But it's not really a seller's market, he said, because buyers looking for affordable homes usually have difficulty qualifying for a loan, and there's a cap on how much they're able to pay.
Rucynski does most of her business with entry-level buyers in South Maui real estate and at $400,000 are below there's "not that much of a selection at all," she said.
For the few homes that come on the market, there are four to six offers right away, she said.
Buffington said that the recent reform of Hawaii's foreclosure law and an unknown number of bank-owned, foreclosed properties are contributing to the lack of inventory of available properties.
The revised law, Act 48, allows homeowners facing nonjudicial foreclosure an option to have mediated, face-to-face meetings with lenders to modify their monthly payments. But many lenders are seeking judicial foreclosures, which "adds considerable time to the foreclosure process," he said.
Buffington said that now, foreclosed properties are coming on the market in "dribbles rather than the droves of the last couple of years."
In January, The Associated Press reported that Hawaii foreclosures dropped 53 percent since the Legislature passed the measure to protect consumers against abuses in nonjudicial foreclosures.
Lightbourn said he doesn't expect to see sale prices begin rising significantly for another one to two years, which might be enough time to work through the inventory of properties seized by lenders but not yet placed on the market.
It's unclear how much "shadow inventory" is out there, he said.
Lightbourn said the good news for buyers is that Maui's real estate market appears to have "bottomed out."
After nearly two years of people being leery about buying properties, "we're seeing a lot of people get back in the market again," he said.
* Brian Perry can be reached at email@example.com.