Our Views: Home sales in Rock County bode well for local economy

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Friday, May 2, 2014

Rock County's first-quarter real estate numbers are impressive. While a rough winter and slow spring plagued home sales across most of Wisconsin, Rock County's sales surged ahead of those in the first quarter of 2013, and the average price climbed, too.

The numbers raise hopes for our local economy.

The South Central Wisconsin Multiple Listing Service says Rock County's first-quarter sales rose 3.4 percent compared to the same period of 2013. Prices were up more than 5 percent. Quarterly sales in the service's entire service area slumped more than 5 percent, and the average price was up just 1.6 percent.

Jim Zanton is president of the Rock-Green Realtors Association and sales director of Janesville's Shorewest Realtors. Randy Borman leads Century 21 Affiliated's team in Janesville, Milton and Evansville. In Monday's Gazette, they hesitated to speculate why Rock County's numbers were better than those elsewhere. Zanton did suggest, however, that the numbers might reflect a lag in this county's economic rebound and that buyers are doing what those in other markets did in recent quarters.

That makes sense. The Great Recession that began in 2008 and the closing of Janesville's General Motors plant that same year combined to hit Rock County hard. It stands to reason that the county needed more time to regain its footing, despite commendable behind-the-scenes work of those involved in Rock County 5.0 and others in the economic development business.

Borman is seeing buyers pull long-delayed triggers on purchases, investing in first homes or moving up before mortgage rates go higher. What's more, Zanton said April sales got off to a “fantastic” start, and real estate specialists are optimistic that with still-reasonable interest rates, a break in our troublesome weather could further invigorate the market.

Home sales and average prices are two of seven economic indicators The Gazette has been tracking quarterly for four years. In this year's first quarter, five of the seven improved from first-quarter 2013 numbers. Retail sales rose, and foreclosure filings and joblessness fell. Only bankruptcy filings and new vehicle registrations showed worse numbers. Nasty weather likely affected the latter figure.

Rock County's average home sale price was $112,254, lower than the average of $121,946 in the fourth quarter of 2013 but higher than the average of $106,408 in last year's first quarter. Regardless, those prices all reflect that homes here remain great bargains, particularly compared to prices closer to Madison or Milwaukee.

Many longtime residents suggest that being close to our capital city, the home of our state's flagship university and all the attractions Madison offers is one of the best things about living here. What's more, the distance between Madison and Janesville will narrow as more companies let workers telecommute and the Interstate 90/39 expansion assures motorists of a more consistent free-flowing freeway.

These are more reasons why brighter skies are visible on the horizon for our local real estate market—and Rock County's overall economy.

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