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Tri-county home sales post strong first quarter in 2013

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North country home sales made a strong showing in the first quarter of 2013, as median prices jumped from last year in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties.

A total of 165 houses in Jefferson County were sold at a median price of $152,000 in the first quarter. That’s an increase of $12,250, or 9 percent, from last year’s median price of $139,750, based on 166 houses sold in the same quarter last year. In St. Lawrence County, 108 houses were sold compared with 101 during the first quarter of 2012; the median home price increased $1,000 year to year, or about 1 percent, from $75,500 to $76,500.

In contrast with Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties, Lewis County saw the median home price drop from last year by $20,000, or 17 percent, from $117,500 to $97,500. Thirty units were sold, up from last year’s 26.

Though the first quarter in 2012 had produced strong results in Jefferson County, agents reported selling houses even earlier this year during the traditionally slow month of January, said Lance M. Evans, executive officer for the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors and the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors.

“I’m hearing from our members that their phones were ringing earlier in 2013,” he said. “I think it’s as good, if not better, than last year. Our median home price is higher than a lot of places in the area.”

As a whole, Mr. Evans said, the median price of houses has climbed steadily in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties over the past decade. The median price of a house in the tri-county area was about $68,000 in 2003, he said, which gradually climbed to $139,500 by the end of 2012; 930 units were sold in 2003, while 1,223 were sold in 2012.

That long-term trend, Mr. Evans said, is largely due to the arrival of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team at Fort Drum in 2004, when more than 5,000 soldiers were added to the post. Demand among military families seeking to purchase houses is expected to remain strong this year, he said, despite the handful of large rental housing projects that broke ground in 2012. Major projects include the 394-unit apartment complex by Morgan Management LLC, Rochester, on County Route 202, and the 296-unit project completed by COR Development Co., Fayetteville, off outer Arsenal Street in the Towne Center Plaza.

The housing market in the region could change drastically next year, Mr. Evans said, depending on how Fort Drum is affected by a request for a Base Realignment and Closure Commission effort in 2015 announced by the U.S. Department of Defense. The department aims to reduce the Army’s number of soldiers by 80,000 by the end of 2017, but Fort Drum could lose or gain troops under the plan.

“I think we have enough housing here to absorb an increase,” Mr. Evans said. “And I think housing projects that are on the bubble right now could move forward.”

But if Fort Drum loses 8,000 troops, for example, “it would be a disaster in a lot of ways for the economy, not just for realtors. There’s a lot of economic spin-off in real estate, because as the number of homes sold drops, it affects every industry.”

Statewide, residential sales during the first quarter of 2013 increased from 17,898 last year to 18,251, according to the New York State Association of Realtors. The median home price climbed from $210,000 to $218,000 over the time frame.

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