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Mila Koumpilova, Published May 11 2009

Home parade kicks off amid hopes for improvement in market

For Bill and Renee Grover, this Parade of Homes, their third, is a first.

Instead of browsing mostly for fun, they are actually looking for a new home. They checked out more than a dozen houses Sunday, the second day of the new-home showcase, which saw brisk traffic despite Mother’s Day celebrations and Minnesota’s fishing opener.

For one thing, the couple married a year ago, and they could use more space for their combined households. But also, they feel it’s prime time to buy.

“Low interest rates would be a big part of it,” Bill Grover said.

Real estate professionals in the area expect this attitude will fuel a big-time comeback for the local market after the slowdown of the fall and winter and the virtual standstill brought on by the flood.

The Home Builders Association, which postponed the event because of the flood, hopes the event will mark that comeback.

“Things have really picked up since the flood,” Terry Becker, the association’s president-elect, said. “I think the outlook for the housing market is very good this year.”

The parade, which features 70 homes priced between $103,000 and $725,000 in Dilworth, Fargo, Horace, Mapleton, Moorhead and West Fargo, continues through Sunday.

On the heels of national financial meltdown, the area real estate market saw a sluggish last quarter of 2008 and downright bleak first three months of 2009. In January, for instance, the volume of existing single-family home sales fell by 20 percent compared to January 2008. Average sales prices dipped.

But as the area returned to normalcy after the flood, things started looking up, said Scott Breidenbach, who is president of the Fargo Moorhead Area Association of Realtors.

“It’s absolutely crazy right now,” said Breidenbach. “We had a wonderful April, and May promises to be just as good.”

Home Builders Association members have seen a sharp spike in inquiries and traffic at open houses, said Becker. Local residents have mostly reassured themselves about the relative health of the local economy. And they are eager to take advantage of low interest rates and an $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit.

“For first-time homebuyers especially, that’s a good chunk of money,” said Becker, adding just about every buyer inquires about the credit. “It’s huge.”

On Sunday afternoon, Matt and Aileen Hauger checked out a $175,000 home in south Fargo’s Pointe West, which fit their search for “a nice home that’s a good deal,” in Aileen’s words.

The couple said they probably won’t be ready financially to buy their first home until sometime next year, but want to get a head-start on the shopping.

They hope low interest rates and reasonable prices won’t vanish by then.

“That’s what I want to get in on because I know that for the rest of my life it’s not going to be as good again,” said Matt, adding, “I do feel the pressure.”

Todd Anhorn of Advantage Realtors, who was showing the house, said more than 150 people stopped by Sunday, including many first-time buyers.

Breidenbach and Becker both said they didn’t expect the flood to have a lasting impact on the market – though Breidenbach reported a slight recent increase in interest in West Fargo properties, perhaps thanks to its permanent flood protection.

Jean Welle, who was showing a Wayne Welle Construction home on West Fargo’s Burlington Drive, said she’d spoken to several snowbird couples who’d returned from Arizona this spring to turmoil. One couple from Amenia, N.D., had found their basement flooded after a sump pump malfunctioned.

Dry West Fargo is attractive now, Welle said, and basement-free condos sound good.

“There’s been a lot of flood conversation,” Welle said. “It’s getting people to make decisions.”

Inforum searchword: Parade of Homes

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529