What's the status of Houston's housing market?

March 16, 2011 4:20:15 PM PDT
A new report shows that median home prices in Houston rose to the highest levels ever recorded in the month of February. So why is Houston bucking the national trend?

It's sort of a mixed bag when you look at the new numbers. The single family median sales price is 3.9 percent, but sales were slightly down. And as we head in to peak buying season, experts wonder how high gas prices factor in.

The signs are in the yards and realtors are making showings, but the greater Houston area housing market is still waiting to take off.

Comparing February of 2010 to February of this year, prices are up but fewer homes were sold. However, real estate brokers say last year's federal tax credit -- offered from February to April -- helped provide an artificial boost.

"We see those numbers returning to more of a normal market. Losing the tax credit had a huge impact on those numbers to date," said Kenya Burrell with Burell Holtzapple Neal Properties.

Home sales are down 4.2 percent, but the average prices jumped 6.6 percent. However, a new wildcard is entering the market as the peak home buying season begins. Gas prices are nearing $4.

Serious buyers will keep searching amid high gas prices, but first time home buyers stretching their budgets may hold off.

"Is it going to hit four dollars again? Probably. Is that going to affect what people are going to looking for? It probably will," H.A.R Vice Chairman Danny Frank said.

Yet, real estate experts see another bright spot in the greater Houston area.

According to the Texas Work Force Commission's latest numbers, people are finding work in the Houston- Sugarland-Baytown area.

From January of 2010 to January of 2011, 56,600 jobs were added.

"At this time with the strong economy in Houston, we are definitely seeing transfers from out of state, as well as from out of the country coming into Houston with employment," Burell said.

Brokers also lament, in terms of pricing and low interest rates, it's a buyers' market.

"You might not make as much today as you made three or four years ago. That's true. But you can now buy more house for that same dollar," Frank said.

Experts say another strong sign was that homes ranging from $250,000-500,000 rose more than 10 percent.