Our views: Appreciate that our 'City of Parks' is doing better than Detroit

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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Sound Off caller last week looked around Janesville, hometown “City of Parks,” and reported seeing little more than abandoned buildings, rundown houses, people leaving and low-paying jobs.

Sorry, but Detroit we're not. And that's a good thing.

While news of Motor City's bankruptcy swirled, things aren't so gloomy here in the southern Wisconsin city that General Motors left behind. No, things aren't great; far from it. But we believe our community is far from the bleak picture painted by our Sound off caller.

The Gazette's latest Economic Dashboard supports that impression. In the second quarter of this year, the number of homes sold in Rock County was slightly more than in the April-June quarter a year ago. More significant, the average price was more than $121,500, or 5.5 percent better than in the second quarter of 2012 and the highest since The Gazette created its Economic Dashboard in 2010.

In fact, things moved in the right direction in five of the seven categories in this gauge. Only retail sales slipped. Bankruptcy filings in the second quarter matched the 195 in the same period of 2012. Besides improving home sales and average home prices, more new vehicles were registered, unemployment dipped from 8.4 percent in May 2012 to 8.0 percent this May, and foreclosure filings in the second quarter fell to 149 compared to 261 a year ago.

That last statistic says much about the improving real estate market. As “short sales” of distressed properties dwindle, they're not holding down average sales prices, and more sellers are putting their homes on the market with expectations of getting a reasonable dollar.

Of course, another report last week suggested mortgage prices, which started rising after the Federal Reserve signaled it might slow its bond-buying programs, were to blame for a slight dip of 1.2 percent in home sales nationwide in June compared to May. Still, comparing this June to last June, sales were up more than 15 percent.

Yes, joblessness remains an issue in Rock County. Years have passed since some local workers have enjoyed raises. Benefits cost employees more out of pocket every year. Family-supporting jobs remain scarce, and too many breadwinners travel elsewhere—even out of state—for work.

Unless mortgage rates rise too suddenly and put a damper on sales, however, the brighter U.S. housing market should bolster real estate demand here in Rock County and Janesville, too.

Yes, we have more abandoned buildings and rundown homes than we'd like to see. But lots of them? We're not buying that view.

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