Utah housing recovery may lag behind US recovery

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SALT LAKE CITY -- There was a big rally on Wall Street Friday as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke predicted a slow turnaround in the economy, and as new numbers revealed a national surge in home sales. Sales of existing homes jumped nationally by 7.2 percent from June to July.

Utah's current housing market

In Utah, the prospects seem to be brightening a bit too, but not as quickly. The state did not see the same June-to-July jump the nation did; sales actually dropped in that period along the Wasatch Front.

But the Salt Lake Board of Realtors says that drop may be due to local, seasonal factors. They expect to release numbers next week comparing July of 2009 to July, 2008.

The board is still refining the data, but a spokesman says sales of existing homes in Salt Lake County are up about 4 percent from a year ago. But for one man desperately trying to unload his own home, recovery can't come soon enough.

Utahns' experiences with buying or selling a home

Kelly and Sharla Gibson have their eye on a new house. The list of things they like about it is long.

"The floor plan; you don't have to stick one kid in the basement and the other they're privileged," Sharla said.

But to buy, they'll first have to sell their current home. It's been on the market for three months, and the new national numbers reflect what they've been seeing.

"We've had a lot of activity lately," Kelly said. "I think home selling is starting to look up."

Things aren't as good for Joseph Giron. He has a good-paying, white-collar job, but he's getting hit by economic ripple effects. His two ex-wives lost their jobs, so he took custody of their children. With family insurance costs skyrocketing, he can't afford the monthly payment on his home.

"I had to make some tough decisions," Giron said. "One month it's not to pay the mortgage so that I can pay everything else and feed the kids. And then the next month it's to pay the mortgage but skip the car payment."

To avoid foreclosure, the family is renting out the house, living with a friend while they try to sell it. But there just aren't enough qualified buyers.

"We were hoping that it was going to turn," Giron said. "But I'm not seeing it, and there's a lot of homes for sale around our neighborhood."

Utah's future housing market

Realtors say the trend is starting to turn thanks to lower prices, lower mortgage rates and government incentives.

"Things like that have really generated a lot of enthusiasm and excitement from buyers," said Jeremy Leger of Elite Realty Group.

But James Wood, director of the University of Utah Bureau of Economic & Business Research, points out that Utah numbers do not yet show a clear positive trend. Builders of new homes are still in serious distress, he said, and sales of existing homes may be turning upwards because of bargain hunters.

"They've waited, and prices have been driven down because of foreclosures and a lack of demand," Wood said.

But builders believe their tide is changing as well, due to lower mortgage rates and incentives offered by the government. John Dowdle, a sales representative for Garbett Homes, has seen more than 4,000 people in this Salt Lake Parade of Homes home show.

"We have a lot of people who are trying to get in for that tax credit that ends in November," Dowdle said.

Even lower prices may be coming. Wood says Utah lagged behind the nation as the real estate tailspin began and will likely lag a bit on the recovery as well. As for prices, he thinks it will be four or five years before the old prices come back.


Story compiled with contributions from John Hollenhorst and Sarah Dallof.

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