The value of local home sales last year fell by more than $1 billion, a 9.3 percent drop from the preceding year, but the real estate market was busier, with a 2.8 percent uptick in homes sold, according to the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island.
The drop came on top of an even bigger decline the year before; from 2007 to last year, home sales fell $4.2 billion locally, a decline of 29 percent.
Historically low interest rates, the first-time home buyers' tax credit and lower prices contributed to the sale of 24,367 residences last year, compared to 23,712 in 2008, the first time the annual number of sales has gone up since the subprime market collapsed two years ago, data show.
That backdrop helped newlyweds Joe and Christine Asselta nab a three-bedroom West Babylon cape in move-in condition in November.
"We probably wouldn't have gotten that nice of a house, but we would have gotten something," said carpenter Joe Asselta, 27, who said he looked at about 100 homes in the past year before signing a $340,000 deal for the house. "If we went further out east in Suffolk, we probably would have gotten something decent. If we were to stay in Nassau County, where we grew up, we probably wouldn't have been able to afford anything."
But the down market and the lower prices on many foreclosures were reflected in the $10.4-billion sales volume, down from $11.4 billion in 2008 and down from $14.6 billion in 2007, when the recession was not yet in full swing, according to the report, which covers Nassau, Suffolk and Queens.
Median sales prices continued to fall. December's median was $354,000, down from $380,000 a year ago, the trade group said.
This year, one question is how much further prices, often driven by consumer confidence, will change after the first-time buyers' credit expires at the end of April. Back in 2008, as monthly median prices hovered at $420,000 or so, some real estate agents predicted that the median would not fall under $400,000. But it did last year.
Full-year figures are not yet available nationally or for New York State. In the latest figures available for the nation's biggest 153 metro areas, the median closing price for single-family homes was $177,900 during the third quarter of last year, an 11.2 percent drop from the same time a year ago, according to the National Association of Realtors. For the metropolitan area, which includes Long Island and northern New Jersey, the drop was 14.1 percent, the association said.
Frank Dell'Accio Jr., president of the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island, said upcoming listings reflect stability in prices and not many are under the $300,000 range.
"The drops in value are not going to be sustained," said the broker-owner of Century 21 AA Realty, based in Lindenhurst. "We have less inventory today than we had a year ago. In supply and demand, if that demand continues, and it appears that it will, it almost inevitably will keep the prices stable."
Dell'Accio said this winter, usually not a prime house-hunting season, has been one of the most active in recent years.
That reflects growing consumer confidence in the housing market, the MLS president said, and with the tax credit due to expire April 30, the Long Island Board of Realtors plans to discuss ways to boost faith in the home values.
"What they're hoping to do is over the next three months, we create a sustainable home buying atmosphere so we don't need the credit going after April," Dell'Accio said. "It's momentum, it's talking to people and promoting to the public that sales are being made. I just got a letter from a customer the other day. They said thanks for selling my home so quickly, especially in this kind of a market.
"The truth of the matter is, it isn't as bad as people think it is. I believe once the consumer starts to have the confidence, that the market isn't as difficult as they once believed, I think it sustains itself."