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GF home sales hold steady

GRAND FORKS -- Steady, steady, steady.

That's how John Colter, director of the Grand Forks Board of Realtors, described the local housing market, even during the booms and collapses in other parts of the U.S.

"We've been consistent," Colter said. "Back in the mid-2000s, when the East Coast and West Coast were going crazy, our sales rates just rose at a nice steady pace. Even during the gloom and doom of the housing crisis, our market has always been good."

The National Association of Realtors on Monday said the number of people agreeing to purchase previously owned homes increased sharply in February. The biggest month-to-month increase was in the Midwest, where pending sales increased by almost 22 percent. Some economists say the national report may signal the early stages of second surge in home sales this spring.

Locally, there were 80 previously owned homes sold in Grand Forks from Jan. 1 to March 31, compared with 91 for the same period in 2009, according to Multiple Listings Service. East Grand Forks saw 21 homes sold, an increase from 13, and Grand Forks and Polk counties combined saw 115 sales, down from 123 for January-March 2009.

The average price per home sold was just less than $147,000 in Grand Forks and more than $162,000 in East Grand Forks.

Home sales were sluggish during the winter, partly because lawmakers extended the deadline to April 30 for first-time homebuyers to get a tax break of as much as $8,000. Colter said the tax credit was a strong selling point last fall.

"Judging by the number of faxes coming in, I think our pending sales will be up over April's in the past," Colter said.

Colter said western North Dakota towns, especially Minot, Williston and Dickinson, are experiencing a housing boom because of the growing oil industry.

The American Dream

Colter said another strong incentive in Grand Forks has been the American Dream Program, an income-qualifying program for first-time homebuyers.

The program is administered by the Grand Forks Housing Authority. Terry Hanson, executive director, said families qualify at 80 percent of the median income based on family size.

"For example, a family of four must earn less than $49,450 to qualify," Hanson said.

Those who qualify re-ceive assistance in two forms:

* A $5,000 grant, which covers half the required lenders' down payment, with the balance going toward closing costs. The grant never has to be repaid.

* A $5,000 forgivable loan toward the purchase of the home. If the home is a primary residence for less than five years, the entire loan must be repaid; from five to 10 years, the loan is prorated at 20 percent a year. After 10 years, the loan is forgiven.

Hanson said the program has been popular with first-time homebuyers in the Promenade Affordable Housing District, west of UND between Sixth and Tenth Avenue North, between 53rd and 55th streets.

James R. Johnson is a reporter at the Grand

Forks (N.D.) Herald,

which is owned by

Forum Communications Co.