Bill and Joan Reinert of Arlington Heights decided in August to sell their home so they could downsize.
The couple didn't know what to expect, considering the brutal real estate market and volatile economy. But a prospective buyer showed up the first day the house was listed and several others followed, including the couple that eventually bought it. The house was on the market just 2½ weeks.
"It was surprising," said Joan Reinert. "I didn't know there were people just waiting in the wings for a home."
More homes in the Chicago and suburban market were sold in August compared to a year ago, giving the industry and consumers a spark of hope after some tough industry times.
Overall, 7,187 single family homes and condominiums in Chicago's nine-county area were sold in August, up about 28 percent. Kane County showed the largest increase in the region at 43.4 percent, followed by Lake County at a 41.5 percent increase, DuPage at 36.3 percent, McHenry at 35.3 percent, Cook at 21.6 percent and Will at 19 percent, according to a report issued Wednesday by the Illinois Association of Realtors.
But even though sales are up, the prices of those homes continue to drop. The association's report showed the median price of a home sold in August was $176,500 in the Chicago and suburban area, down 10.4 percent, compared to $197,000 in August 2010.
Those lower prices continue to keep the door open for first-time homebuyers as well as investors, who scoop up distressed or foreclosed homes, fix them up and rent them out until the market offers a profit, experts said.
While the number of homes sold has been encouraging, many homeowners still are underwater with their mortgages and face foreclosure or unemployment. Low consumer confidence has kept a lot of homes sitting on the market or taken off the market after a period of time.
"The fuller picture lurking behind those numbers is that a lot of properties are delisted or still on the market," said Phil Ashton, associate professor of urban planning and policy at the University of Illinois Chicago. "While the numbers are encouraging, the supply that is still out there, the homes that have been unsuccessful in finding a buyer, is still high."
The real estate market has been struggling to regain its footing here and nationwide after the subprime mortgage crisis, waves of foreclosures, a recession, higher unemployment and other ills.
Early last year, the federal government offered first-time homebuyers cash as an incentive to buy. So watching the numbers hold steady and later climb without the stimulus was encouraging, experts said.
"Sales in July 2010 just fell off a cliff," said Pat Callan, owner/broker of Realty Executives Premiere in Wheaton. "But now we're finding that sales in August are ahead of last year and that's without the stimulus."
The numbers echoed another report also released this week by The Mainstreet Organization of Realtors, which showed that most suburbs sold more homes in August, compared to the same month a year ago. For example, Lombard sold 41 homes, compared to 15 a year ago, a 173 percent increase; Bartlett sold 28 homes, compared to 18 a year ago, a 55.6 percent increase; and Arlington Heights sold 49 homes, compared to 41 last year, a 19.5 percent increase.
But some weren't as lucky. Des Plaines sold 26 homes, compared to 33 last year, down 21.2 percent; Elk Grove Village sold 9 homes, compared to 12 last year, down 25 percent; and Naperville sold 129 homes, compared to 147 last year, down 12.2 percent.
"Homes are just so affordable now that some are looking at them as investments," said Mainstreet co-President Tom Krettler, an agent with ReMax Unlimited Northwest in Palatine.
The real estate agents still are seeing an influx of first-time homebuyers as well as professionals seeking to move up in the market, they said.
But whether the market continues to climb depends on several factors, said Loretta Alonzo, president-elect of the Illinois Association of Realtors and owner of Century 21 Alonzo & Associates in LaGrange Park.
"Our projections say we'll do better this year, but there are some caveats," Alonzo said. "It depends a lot on the federal government, the loan limits, whether consumer confidence will increase and our leadership and whether they'll get a better handle on the economy. We're on the fence post now."