Home prices up, sales down in northern Rhode Island

This home in Darlington is priced at $199,900.
This home in Darlington is priced at $199,900.

Single-family median home prices in northern Rhode Island were on the rise
in 2003 compared to two years ago, but the number of homes sold in the region
was on the decline. Local Realtors said this trend is a reflection of buyers
moving back into more industrialized areas of the state.

“I’m surprised (that home sales are down) – it’s been so hectic this year,” said Kathy Coutu, sales agent and manager of Century 21 Stachurski Agency in Pawtucket, and a member of the Northern Rhode Island Board of Realtors. “Prices have definitely gone up,” she said, but homes in Pawtucket and other areas of northern Rhode Island are still more affordable than other areas of the state.

“It’s a simple case of supply and demand,” said Karl Martone, broker and owner of the Martone Group, with REMAX Properties in Smithfield, and president of the Greater Providence Board of Realtors. “Not many people want to sell their homes,” especially if they were able to refinance and take advantage of low interest rates.

While sales were down in six out of the 11 communities in northern Rhode Island, median prices have increased dramatically; the largest price jump was in Central Falls. According to the Rhode Island Association of Realtors, the median price of a single-family home there went up from $94,500 in 2002 to $145,000 in 2003 (as of September) – despite the fact that there was no increase in single-family home sales between the two years in that town.

Coutu said that more people are looking to industrialized communities like Pawtucket and Central Falls, where prices are close to the 2003 state median of $228,000.

“Here in Pawtucket we’re seeing a lot of people coming in from Boston, investors,” she said. “Prices are lower and it’s a nice community and it’s good for first-time home buyers.”

Sales of single-family homes dipped slightly in Lincoln, Cumberland, Smithfield, Burrillville, Glocester and Foster, according to figures from the association. Sales increased from 2002 to the end of September 2003 by 17 homes in Woonsocket, 10 in Pawtucket, 15 in North Smithfield and 10 in Scituate.

Coutu said she suspects the drop in the number of homes sold reflects the cooling of the upscale home market in the state. Fewer upscale homes are being sold, while more investors are purchasing smaller ranch-style and multi-family homes to supplement their income.

“The higher-end properties have sold less,” she said. “Even what was affordable before has gone up to where it might be comparable to Massachusetts numbers.”

Martone thinks people living in those upscale communities simply don’t want to leave. “There’s no inventory in those towns, and that’s why the values are so strong,” he said. “I live in Scituate, and I’d never leave.”

Home sales in Lincoln dropped from 130 in 2002 to 118 as of the end of September 2003; the median price rose 12.3 percent, from $260,500 in 2002 to $292,500 in 2003. In Cumberland, sales dropped 14 percent; price was up from $219,000 in 2002 to $250,000 in 2003. Smithfield had almost 14 percent fewer homes sold in 2003, from 123 in 2002 to 106 in 2003; the median price rose approximately 24 percent, from $209,900 to $260,000.

Prices have skyrocketed in the area over the last two years, Coutu said – a home that in 2001 was selling for $90,000 is now selling for $160,000 to $180,000.

“More people are taking their money out of the stock market and putting it into real estate,” she said. Places like Pawtucket are still affordable, though. “It depends on your price range, but you could get a nice ranch for $200,000 in Darlington, or for $270,000 you could get something nicer in Cumberland or Lincoln – maybe.”

Burrillville, despite sales dropping from 111 in 2002 to 94 last year, had a 24 percent hike in median home price, from $185,000 to $230,000. Homes sold in Glocester decreased from 85 in 2002 to 76 in 2003, but median price increased by more than 20 percent, from $195,000 to $235,000. Foster sold only three fewer homes in 2003, and experienced less than a 6 percent increase in median price, from $230,000 in 2002 to $243,500.

With rising real estate prices even in places like Central Falls and Pawtucket, Coutu said she expects the northern Rhode Island market to be even with southeastern Massachusetts soon, especially Burrillville, Lincoln and others. If Massachusetts residents (or people who work there) are no longer getting a deal on real estate in Rhode Island, the market could change.

“We’re getting closer to their prices and that will equal things out in some areas,” Coutu said.

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