The Tri-City housing market is in bloom.
Home sales climbed by 11 percent during the first three months of the year compared to the same quarter last year, according to data recently released by the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Washington.
That growth continued in April, with a total of 900 homes sold by the end of the month, according to data from the Tri-City Association of Realtors.
That's up from the same time last year, when 807 homes sold, and from 2011, when 829 homes were sold.
It's still well below the sales of 1,016 homes in the first four months of 2010, when many first-time home buyers were taking advantage of a federal tax credit.
Wayne Langford, Realtors' association president, said it appears the Tri-Cities is on track to meet 2007 home sale numbers, which was a record year before the tax credit incentive sent home buying even higher.
"We've had an exceptional April and expect that to continue," said Langford, a broker-Realtor with Windermere Real Estate/Tri-Cities.
While the rest of the state is seeing sales held back by a limited inventory of homes, the Tri-City inventory was about 15 percent higher during the first three months of this year compared to the year before, said Glenn Crellin, associate director for research at the Runstad Center. Statewide, listings dropped by 18 percent.
Benton County remains the most affordable county in the state for first-time home buyers.
Crellin said that in part is because the county saw a 2.2 percent increase in prices from last year, while the state's average housing prices increased 14 percent.
The average sale price during the first three months of the year was $181,800 in the Tri-Cities, according to the center. The state average was $237,600.
The number of sales and the average sold price are slightly up so far this year, said Travis Davis, designated broker with Coldwell Banker Tomlinson Associated Brokers of Kennewick.
"It's definitely a good sign for the Tri-Cities market in general," he said.
Anything under $350,000 is moving, Davis said. And even the upper-end properties show some signs of growing.
Sales are looking good in the $125,000 to the $250,000 price ranges, Langford said.
Retirees are coming back to the market, Davis said. The Tri-Cities' health care services, warm weather and amenities such as the rivers and golf courses has made it an attractive place to retire, he said.
Housing markets stabilizing in other areas mean retirees can sell their homes and buy new houses in the Tri-Cities, he said.
There also is a healthy number of first-time buyers looking for houses, along with some move-up buyers, Davis said.
Interest rates on loans still are at historic lows, Langford said.
"This is absolutely a fantastic time to make a buying or a selling decision," he said.