By Chad Frey

Newton Kansan

According to statistics from South Central Kansas MLS and the Harvey County Appraiser’s office, there are signs the real estate market in Newton and Harvey County is strengthening.

“We started seeing a change about a year-and-a-half ago,” said county appraiser Craig Clough.

Namely the number of home sales is increasing. According to statistics from the appraiser’s office, 163 existing homes sold in the first six months of 2012. During the first half of 2011, 141 existing homes sold. For new construction, 15 homes sold in the first half of 2012, up from seven in 2011.

The average sale amount increased as well.

“Looking at the statistics, I would say the market is staying stable,” Clough said.

Real estate agent Ron Harder of Newton would agree with his assessment — that the market isn’t as strong as it could be, but is stable.

“Things are better than last year, but last year was nothing to write home about,” Harder said.

Within the Wichita MLS, which includes Newton and Harvey County, there are signs of a strengthening market.

In 10 of the last 12 months, home sales during the month have beaten the previous year. For example, there were 749 homes sold in July of 2011, well above the 569 the previous July. For June of 2012, the most recent numbers available, there were 769 homes sold in the MLS area.

Factors leading to those increases include, according to Harder, lower interest rates and pricing.

“There are a lot of things that are aligned for a strong real estate market, houses are more affordable and interest rates are almost free,” Harder said. “There is a lot of inventory.”

In other words, it’s a buyers market.

“You have to factor into it the lower prices in homes, and some of those are distressed properties,” Harder said. “Some of them are going to owners, but a lot are going to investors. Investors have been the strong part of the market. ... I am thankful for investors, or we would really be in trouble.”

Right now, according to the statistics, the average home in Newton stays on the market for 109 days. Owers are getting about 96 percent of the listing price — both are numbers very much in line with the Wichita MLS.

 Harder said the market, and overall economy, is not “healthy” yet. And it’s the overall economy which is making it difficult for the real estate market to grow — both nationally and locally.

“I think the one thing that is holding us back is jobs,” Harder said.

The folding of small businesses and increased governmental regulations are factors Harder pointed to holding back the jobs front.

But he also pointed to local government as working to bring new jobs to the area.

“I know the market would spring to life if we were adding jobs,” Harder said. “There are some good signs out there. I am really thankful for proactivity in the city and county when it comes to jobs — I know people are discouraged right now. The Kansas Logistics Park is an example of productivity. Adding walking paths, upgrading parks  — doing things that make our quality life better. The Kansas Logistics Park is the big gorilla of proactivity. They are bearing tremendous risk, and I applaud them because that is what it will take to get us going.”