First quarter home sales were up over the previous year across much of the Coulee Region as Wisconsin’s housing market continued its recovery, according to data from the Wisconsin Realtors Association.

Year-over-year sales were up more than 12 percent over the first three months of 2013 in La Crosse and surrounding counties and up nearly 15 percent in the dozen counties that make up the WRA’s western Wisconsin region.

With 256 sales so far in 2013, La Crosse County is up more than 25 percent over the previous year. Buffalo County, with a far smaller number of sales, posted an increase of more than 70 percent.

“Everybody’s busier than heck,” said Mike Pietrek, president of the La Crosse Area Realtors Association. “Properties are getting listed, they’re getting sold.”

Statewide, Wisconsin experienced its 21st straight month of growth in March for the largest volume since 2007, before the housing crisis and recession. Sales were up in every region — by more than 10 percent in four of the six compared to the first quarter of 2012.

That’s helped bring down the supply of houses on the market, which in turn has started to push prices higher, said Michael Theo, president of WRA.

The inventory of homes for sale in March was down more than 11 percent compared to the same month last year. The supply — estimated at 18 months in 2011 — is now down to just nine months.

Ideally it would be about six months, Theo said.

In La Crosse County, the supply was just 5.2 months, which Marquette University economist David Clark said is in line with other metropolitan counties and indicates a relatively balanced market.

“We’re at a point where it’s good for both the buyers and the sellers,” Theo said. “Buyers have those attractive interest rates. On the sellers’ side you have the shrinking inventory and rising prices.”

Statewide, median prices thus far in 2013 are up 5 percent, to $126,000. The median price in La Crosse County was $139,290 for the quarter.

Homes in the $100,000 to $200,000 range are moving the fastest in the local area, Pietrek said.

The recovering market is beginning to help home builders hit hard by the slump.

Mark Etrheim, owner of Mastercraft Homes, said he’s coming off his busiest winter in his 37-year career and expects demand will continue to rebound this summer.

He said the demand — primarily for homes around $250,000 — is being driven by people not finding what they want on the market, or not being quick enough to snap up the good buys in their price range.

“I would say the builders are optimistic, but they’re not busting down the doors,” said John Lautz, president of the La Crosse Area Builders Association.

Lautz said a spike in lumber costs is hurting the new-home market, but interest rates remain at near-record lows.

“Interest rates offset an awful lot of stuff,” Lautz said. “(And) now’s a good time to put their home on the market.”

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Just remember that today's prices are a reflection of the Federal Reserve's 6 year attempt to blow more air into the housing bubble with artificially low interest rates. When interest rates and house prices return to a natural market level, house prices will reflect the downward pressure on incomes and price increases elsewhere in food, fuel and healthcare will leave little to spend on housing.

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