Sales of existing homes in Northwest Indiana in March rose nearly 4 percent over the same month last year, completing a first quarter of the year with an increase of almost 11 percent.
A total of 761 sales were closed in March in the seven counties that comprise the Greater Northwest Indiana Association of Realtors, up 3.8 percent from March 2015's 733 sales.
LaPorte County led the way in both absolute and percentage terms, with sales jumping 44.1 percent to 98, 30 more than last year. Lake County saw a monthly increase of 5.6 percent, to 454, up 24 from 2015's 430.
Gains in those counties were offset somewhat by a 9.1 percent decline in Porter County, where sales totaled 150 in March, as compared to 165 in a particularly strong March 2015.
GNIAR also includes Jasper, Newton, Pulaski and Starke counties. Those counties also tempered Lake and LaPorte's strong gains, with 59 sales in the smaller counties, down 11 from March 2015.
Nationally, sales of single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops increased 5.1 percent year-over-year, according to the National Association of Realtors.
"Buyer demand remains sturdy in most areas this spring and the mid-priced market is doing quite well," said Lawrence Yun, the association's chief economist. "However, sales are softer both at the very low and very high ends of the market because of supply limitations and affordability pressures."
Yun said the gains were led by solid sales in the Northeast and Midwest sections of the country.
March was the 49th consecutive month the median home price rose year-over-year, according to the NAR. It was up 5.7 percent nationally to $222,700.
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Locally, the median price rose 18.3 percent year-over-year, with March's median at $142,000, up from $120,000 last year. Prices ranged from Porter County's high of $170,000 to Starke County's $49,250, which was based on only nine March sales.
Mortgage rates were below 4 percent for the eighth straight month, according to national mortgage bundler Freddie Mac. The average rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage was 3.69 percent in March.
But first-time buyers have remained stubbornly around 30 percent of total home puchasers, according to the NAR.
"With rents steadily rising and average fixed rates well below 4 percent, qualified first-time buyers should be more active participants than what they are right now," Yun said.
Affordability remains a problem, with a low supply of starter homes pushing prices up, Yun said.
Available housing inventory in general has remained relatively low, according to the NAR.
March's performance capped a first quarter significantly better than 2015 in Northwest Indiana. Sales are 11.6 percent higher than last year, totaling 1,947 as compared to 1,744 in first-quarter 2015.
And median prices are up by 12 percent to $139,900, from last year's $124,950.