The housing market is beginning to look more like a drag than a boost to Hampton Roads' economy in 2014.
February home sales across the region came in below the levels of 2013, according to a report Friday from the Real Estate Information Network, the local multiple listing service. January sales totals also trailed year-earlier levels.
Across the region from Virginia Beach to Williamsburg, about 1,300 homes were sold in February, the listing service said. That was down about 2 percent from February 2013.
The February numbers did indicate a pickup in sales activity from January. Only 1,145 homes sold across the region in January, down 15 percent from the year before.
Prices in February continued to be weak, with a median sale of $181,600, down 3.9 percent from $189,000 the year before.
Vinod Agarwal, director of the Economic Forecasting Project at Old Dominion University, cautioned against reading too many trouble signs in the numbers. He said distressed sales - either foreclosures or short sales, which are those made for prices below what is owed - continue to undermine the market. Distressed sales accounted for nearly 31 percent of transactions in February. That was down from about 34 percent a year earlier, but a healthy ratio is under 10 percent, he said.
"The number has been going down, but they're not going down fast enough," Agarwal said.
There were other soft spots in the local housing market in February - with both existing homes and newly built ones, in South Hampton Roads and on the Peninsula.
The listing service said a total of 823 existing homes were sold on the south side in February, five more than in the same month last year. But the median price for those homes slipped by $2,000, to $173,000, over the same period.
The market for newly built homes was even weaker, in part because of harsh weather that slowed completion. The listing service said 115 new homes were sold in South Hampton Roads in February, down from 137 in the same month of 2013.
Among South Hampton Roads cities, Chesapeake led the way with 52 new homes sold, followed by Virginia Beach at 21, Norfolk at 19, Suffolk at 12, and Portsmouth at 11.
Sales of newly built homes were particularly weak on the Peninsula. Only 30 such sales were recorded in that part of the region in February, with Hampton and James City County leading the way, at nine each. Newport News had five; York and Gloucester counties, three each; and Williamsburg, one.
Dave Mayfield, 757-446-2271, firstname.lastname@example.org