Jul. 25--If the Capital Region's real estate market were a boxer, he would be weary and bruised but still on his feet.
     But perhaps that's pretty good considering the punches he has taken, including a downturn in the economy, plummeting consumer confidence and a credit crunch that has made it harder for buyers to get a mortgage.
     Numbers released Thursday by the Greater Capital Association of Realtors Inc. show that in the first six months of the year, closed sales of single-family homes regionally were down 17 percent compared to the same period last year. Median prices, meanwhile, were flat.
     The numbers show that the Capital Region housing market is stronger than the national market, which is on its knees and looking to the referee for help. In some parts of the country, the market has been knocked out cold.
     But can the Capital Region continue to buck national trends? And will the housing market, both nationally and locally, recover soon?
     Hugh Johnson, chief investment officer at Johnson Illington Advisors, an investment firm in Albany, said the answer to the first question is yes, because while the Capital Region had a housing bubble, "it wasn't as euphoric a bubble as it was elsewhere."
     So because prices here didn't rise as high as they did in, say, San Francisco or Boston, they don't have as far to fall.
     But Johnson, along with many analysts, isn't expecting a quick real estate market recovery.
     "The level of unsold homes, the inventory, is substantial," he said. "There are a lot of homes that need to be sold that can't be sold, and that's likely to exact downward pressure on prices. We've got a ways to go."
     Johnson was speaking primarily about the national market, but said the Capital Region faces the same concerns.
     Moreover, there are some troubling real estate trends taking shape here.
     For example, the California firm RealtyTrac, in a report being released today, says foreclosure filings in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy metro area increased 276.6 percent in the second quarter, compared to the same three months in 2007. That could add homes to the market and depress prices.
     Nationally, foreclosure filings rose 121 percent, according to RealtyTrac.
     And the rates on 30-year mortgages surged to 6.63 percent this week, the highest level in nearly a year and up from 6.26 percent last week -- another factor that could slow sales.
     Still, local real estate agents said Thursday there is reason for optimism, especially when the local market is measured against the national market.
     "That's been my battle cry," said Marie Bettini, president of the Greater Capital Association of Realtors and owner of Albany Realty Group. "Considering all the negative things we're hearing nationally, we're not doing that bad here."
     The GCAR numbers show price stability across the region. For the first six months of the year, median single-family home prices were up 1 percent in Albany, Rensselaer and Saratoga counties and down 1 percent in Schenectady County.
     Closed sales for the first six months, when compared to the same period in 2007, were down 22 percent in Albany County, 7 percent in Rensselaer County, 13 percent in Saratoga County and 24 percent in Schenectady County.
     "It's obviously not a very active market," said James Ader, chief executive of GCAR, a Colonie-based trade group. "But it's also not a market that we should put in a casket and bury."
     Also Thursday, the National Association of Realtors reported that sales of existing homes nationwide dropped by 2.6 percent in June.
     The national median price for a home sold last month dropped to $215,100, down by 6.1 percent from a year ago. It was the fifth largest year-over-year price drop on record.
     Chris Churchill can be reached at 454-5442 or by e-mail at cchurchill@timesunion.com.


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