Overall, home sales throughout 2019 in Cass County slipped 4 percent (643 vs. 667). The sales of waterfront properties were the leading cause, with 30 fewer homes sold than in all of 2018 (162 vs. 192) for a 16 percent decline. Sales of non-waterfront homes fluctuated month-to-month but ended up by six houses over 2018 (481 vs. 475).

The average selling price at the end of 2019 in Cass County for all homes rose 4 percent from 2018 ($216,801 vs. $208,890). The average selling price for waterfront homes only changed by two dollars ($366,375 vs. $366,373). The average selling price for non-waterfront houses increased by 15 percent ($166,425 vs. $145,234).

The median selling price at the end of 2019 for all homes stayed the same in 2019 as in 2018 at $155,000. The median selling price for waterfront homes slipped 2 percent ($297,500 vs. $ 304,500). The median selling price for non-waterfront houses increased by 10 percent ($134,900 vs. $122,500). 

In December, the overall number of homes sold jumped 41 percent from December 2018 (52 vs. 37). The number of waterfront homes sold increased by two houses (9 vs.7). Non-waterfront homes sales had the biggest impact on December sales, with 13 more houses selling in 2019 as in 2018 (43 vs. 30).

The average selling price in December for all homes grew 16 percent to $219,906 from $189,825 in December 2018. The average selling price for waterfront homes soared 117 percent in 2019 to $529,167 from $244,286 in 2018. The average selling price for non-waterfront homes fell 12 percent in December ($155,177 vs. $177,116).

The median selling price for December for all homes dropped 14 percent ($145,000 vs. $ 169,000). The median selling price for waterfront homes leaped to $425,000 from $250,000 in December 2018. The non-waterfront median selling price fell 15 percent ($128,000 vs. $ 150,500).

The median price is the price at which 50% of the homes sold were above that price, and 50% were below.

In Cass County, there were four houses sold that were bank-owned or foreclosed houses as a part of all closed transactions in December, which was 8 percent of the 52 houses sold. The highest percentage December previously was 27 percent in 2014. Year-to-date, the highest percentage was 10 percent in March and June.

For comparison, the number of bank-owned or foreclosed homes as a percentage of all transactions in Berrien, Cass, and the westerly 2/3 of Van Buren Counties was 4 percent; down from the 3 percent in November. The highest percentage in December was 45 percent in 2009.

Our housing market has been robust since 2016 and 2017 when both year-end numbers of houses sold broke records, along with total dollar volume and average and median selling prices. The previous peak year was 2006 and is used as the start of our year-over-year comparison. 

At the end of 2017, the number of houses sold peaked at 3733. With the declining inventory of houses available for sale, the number of homes sold at the end of each year dropped to 3,591 in 2018 and 3607 in 2019, which is a difference of 16 houses. Both years mirrored each other with six months (May - October) having over 300 houses sold each month.

The end of the year average and median selling prices set record prices each year, starting in 2016 through 2018. Then, 2019 ended with prices increasing even higher. The year-to-date average selling price in 2019 was $240,525 compared to $233,748 in 2018. The year-to-date median selling price in 2019 was $179,000 compared to $165,000 in 2018. 

Consequentially, the end of the year total dollar volume set records each year. In 2019, the end of the year total dollar volume at $867,817,204 was 3 percent higher than the volume set in 2018 of $ 839,392,514.

Looking at just results in December 2019 and comparing it to December 2018, home sales were down 6 percent in December 2019 (254 vs. 269). 

The average selling price increased 8 percent to $252,183 from $234,139 in December 2018. The median selling price rose 7 percent to $ 176,000 from $163,900 in December 2018. Both selling prices set new records for December in the year-over-year comparison. 

The increase in selling prices pushed the total dollar volume up 2 percent from December 2018, while fewer houses were sold ($64,054,495 vs. $62,983,647). The total dollar volume also set a new record. 

The inventory of houses for sale dropped 9 percent below that in December 2018 (1176 vs. 1295). At 1176 houses, the market had a 4.7-months supply of homes for sale compared to 5.8 in November. In December 2011, the market had a 12.7-months supply with 2,461 houses for sale. 

Overall in SWMI, the mortgage rate in December decreased slightly to 3.756 from 3.808 in November. Last year in December, the rate was 4.718. Nationally, the Freddie Mac mortgage rate in December also increased slightly to 3.74 from 3.68 for a 30-year conventional mortgage. 

This data reflects home sales across Berrien, Cass, and the westerly 2/3 of Van Buren counties and should not be used to determine the market value of any individual property. If you want to know the market value of your property, please contact your local REALTOR®.

When Selling a Home…

Before putting your home on the market, there are critical things you should do to increase your home’s value before putting it on the market. The key is to focus on the most important repairs to make before selling a house to ensure every dollar you spend supports a higher asking price. 

This is where your REALTOR® can really give good advice. He or she knows what buyers are expecting and what repairs recoup the most dollars you will spend. 

The number one must-make repair is to fix damaged flooring. Scratched-up wood flooring; ratty, outdated carpeting; and tired linoleum really can overwhelm buyers. Fix water stains is #2. For buyers, a water stain suggests there could be a more problems hidden beneath the surface.

Next, repair torn window screens. This is an easy DIY for around $15. Another small fix with a big impact is yellowing or cracked grout. Buyers will notice. Simple bathroom re-grouting may cost just $1 to $2 per square foot, 

You love your pets, but buyers do not. Repair or replace any and all pet damage. Just one sign of pet damage will have buyers suspecting there are other damaged areas.

A full kitchen renovation is rarely worth it when it comes time to sell. If you're updating the space just for your sale, focus on low-cost, high-impact projects instead. Painting wood cabinets, updating hardware, or installing new countertops or appliances could be enough.

Setting up your home for selling success doesn't have to be expensive. Ask your REALTOR® to help prioritize updates that get your home in selling shape and justify a higher asking price. 

When Buying a Home… A low credit score doesn't have to lock you out of homeownership. A mortgage will probably cost you more (both in dollars and angst) than someone with stellar credit, but many lenders are willing to work with you.

Lenders review your whole financial picture. If you have a steady income, a regular payment history, and some cash in hand, that will help balance your less-than-perfect credit.

Here's how FICO generally categorizes credit scores:

  • 800+ = Excellent credit score
  • 740-799 = Very good credit score
  • 670-739 = Good credit score
  • 580-669 = Fair credit score
  • Below 580 = Poor credit score 

A credit score of 669 or below typically makes you a "subprime" borrower, according to FICO. That means you're a bigger risk, so loans will cost more, and your options will be limited. 

Your primary low-credit-score mortgage option will be FHA, which sometimes give loans with credit scores as low as 580. But the lower your score, the more it will cost you. You may pay more in the form of a larger down payment, a higher interest rate, private mortgage insurance, or points, which are fees attached to the loan.

Let your REALTOR® know your credit score at your first meeting, and his/her knowledge of local lenders will help you find the best financial options in your market.

To view properties that are for sale in your local area, go to www.swmar.com and click on “Property Search”. The Southwestern Michigan Association of REALTORS®, Inc. is a professional trade association for real estate professionals who are members of the National Association of REALTORS®, and ancillary service providers for the real estate industry in Allegan, Van Buren, Berrien and Cass Counties. The Association can be contacted at 269-983-6375 or through their website at www.swmar.com.