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Wauwatosa's residential real estate market is a strong one

Home sales and median prices exceed state and regional figures

Jan. 22, 2014

Home sales in Wauwatosa exceeded state and regional increases in 2013, rising 28.6 percent over 2012, and local real estate agents see prices moving up.

Metro MLS reported closed sales of 634 homes in Wauwatosa in 2013 compared with 493 for the prior year. And, in spite of a citywide property reassessment that saw residential values drop an average of 9.8 percent, prices of sold homes jumped 12.3 percent, from $182,500 in 2012 to $205,000 last year, MLS reported.

The sales figure for last year is the highest in Wauwatosa since at least 2008, and the median price is the highest since the same year.

Statewide, sales rose 10.8 percent, and prices were up just over 7 percent. In the four-county Milwaukee area, sales lagged behind the state, rising 9.8 percent, and average property values rose about 12 percent.

Curiously, the Brookfield/Elm Grove market is relatively stagnant, according to MLS figures. Closed sales rose by just four homes from 2012 to last year, to a total of 750, and prices moved up just 3.2 percent, to $261,000.

Several indicators suggest the Tosa market is becoming more competitive. Wauwatosa listings increased last year to 904, the highest figure in a couple of years, showing increasing confidence on the part of sellers. Plus, the average stay of a property on the market, which peaked at 88 days in 2011, fell to 72 days.

Assessment a 'false read'

The drop in assessed value has little to do with actual sales prices, said Mike Fons, general sales manager of the metro west office for First Weber Group.

"Really, in all honesty, assessments are usually a couple years behind what they're trying to reflect," he said.

Comparative values used in a broad municipal revaluation are sales from previous years. By the time the reassessment has completed, the market has moved on.

"The reassessment and lowering of values is kind of a false read," said Rick Bohmann, vice president and sales director for Shorewest Realtors. "What you have to look at are sale prices. We're seeing sale prices sometimes 20 to 30 percent above assessment."

From the depths of the recession, when selling a home was difficult and buyers were in control, the market has become more favorable to sellers, Fons said.

Tosa characteristics

Strong prices in Wauwatosa do not surprise local agents.

"Wauwatosa has been a pretty solid market over the last period of time. The sales have been relatively quick as opposed to other communities, and the prices have been going up," Fons said.

"Our business is up very strongly," Bohmann said.

Bohmann said the Wauwatosa market benefits from the school system, a "distinct pride of ownership," architecturally unique properties originating from periods of architectural control, and other factors.

Its central location and proximity to destinations east and west, and high quality of services are also factors, Fons said.

Employment centers in Tosa also benefit the local home market. The Milwaukee Regional Medical Center, Mayfair Mall, Innovation Campus, and the soon-to-open Mayfair Collection shopping center employ thousands.

"People want to live closer and closer to work if they can, and make it convenient," Bohmann said.

Having been in the business since the late 1970s, Bohmann said, "Wauwatosa is one of those semi-deflation-proof communities — it's always fared very well on the west side whenever there's been a more troubled economy."

Interest rates likely to rise

Interest rates, which have been at historic lows for a few years, are likely to rise in the coming months, pushing mortgage rates up, but both Bohmann and Fons view this period of anticipation as an accelerant to home sales.

"When's the best time to buy? It's before costs go up," Bohmann said.

People feel increased urgency in this environment, Fons said.

Bohmann views the increased average and median prices as influenced by the sale of expensive, high-end homes.

Prices are "going up, but not as dramatically as people like to perceive," he said.

Self-perpetuating belief

In another way, the power of perception on the market is more generally strong. Fons said a feeling that things are improving is self-perpetuating.

"Perception is reality, and the results are showing," Fons said.

"It's proving to be a great time to sell," Bohmann said, "because there's more buyers than there are sellers."

Still, Fons said, "we haven't got back to the levels we had six, seven years ago."

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