Pittsburgh area builders saw housing boom in December

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In the tense final weeks before the nation appeared to be headed over the fiscal cliff last month, new home builders in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area were watching their sales numbers soar through the roof.

The number of new homes sold in December was up 64 percent to 266, from 162 new homes sold in December 2011. The dollars spent on those homes also jumped substantially -- a 75 percent increase to $91.4 million, compared with $52.1 million in December 2011.

"There was a big push by builders to close deals by the end of 2012, and a lot of that had to do with the tax uncertainties due to the fiscal cliff," said Dan Murrer, vice president of RealSTATs, a South Side-based real estate information company that compiled the statistics.

The average price of a new home increased 6.8 percent to $343,784 in December from $321,905 in 2011. Meanwhile, the average price of existing homes increased 6.9 percent to $145,028 from $132,805 in the five-county region that includes Allegheny, Beaver, Butler Washington and Westmoreland counties.

Sales figures for existing homes also spiked, although far less dramatically than new home sales. The number of existing homes sold rose 14.7 percent to 2,140, from 1,865 homes in December 2011.

A substantial portion -- 1,493 -- of the total 2,406 homes sold in this region were in Allegheny County. Mr. Murrer is convinced the spike in Allegheny County home sales is tied to the county doubling its fee to record deeds and mortgages from $78 to $150 effective Jan. 1.

"When you look at overall home sales for December, Allegheny County had a huge increase in comparison to other counties," Mr. Murrer said. "That's because they effectively doubled the recording fee and people were trying to avoid it.

"If it were not the case, we would see the same kind of increase in sales in the other four counties and we don't."

The cost to record deeds and mortgages in Beaver and Butler counties remains $55; Washington County recording costs are $63.50; and Westmoreland County recording costs are $62.

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Tim Grant: tgrant@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1591.


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