Christmas in July?

After seeing the monthly home sales numbers, some real estate agents may think so.

More than 1,000 houses were sold in the Grand Rapids area last month, 6.5 percent more than in July 2006. That is only the third time in the past 23 months that monthly sales figures were up from the previous year. Before that it rose in January and in December 2006.

"We may, in fact, be starting to turn the corner," said Jamie Starner, president of the Grand Rapids Association of Realtors. "We're starting to turn the wheel."

The hike in sales is not the only number making people smile. The number of homes being listed also slowed.

The average sale price dropped 6.9 percent to $151,266. While the drop may mean less profit for the seller, many real-estate agents say it is key to making a sale at all.

"We really haven't seen average sale prices like this since 2004," Starner said. "So it's essentially a price rollback.

"Sellers are beginning to get the message that if they are going to sell, they are going to have to reduce their price."

Re/Max agent Amy Miller said she will recognize the bottom of the market when she sees fewer "Price Reduced" signs on houses.

She orders an appraisal up front so her clients are faced with the realities of the market and price their home correctly from the start. Miller said she turned down three listings last week because the clients would not lower their asking price.


"It's like a declining stock market," she said. "You can't sell a stock above the market when the market is going down, no matter how much your neighbor's house sold for two years ago."

Rich Conklin, one of Miller's clients, sold his East Grand Rapids home on Robinson Road SE in one day for more than the asking price.

He attributed it to extensive staging and appropriate pricing.

"Amy said, 'Do you want to sell the house? Don't screw around,' " Conklin said.

Cormac and Lisa Smith also listed with Miller, after several months of trying to sell their East Grand Rapids home on their own.

Miller priced it about $20,000 lower than their asking price, although they had expected it to drop during negotiations.

It sold in three days.

"We were surprised," he said. "Even though Amy really wasn't, we were."

A large majority of the sales last month -- 88 percent -- fell below $200,000. Last July showed the same breakdown.

Starner said that points to first-time buyers.

"I was hoping that it was more evenly distributed across the spectrum," he said. "But that's where the market starts.

"You need to topple the first domino to keep people moving."

David Sova, vice president of Heglund-Sova Realty, said only time will tell if the market is on the rise.

"One month isn't a tell-all,

other than you have to start somewhere," he said.

"If in another three months we're holding our own or having small increases, that would be encouraging."