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Is Willmar, Minn., housing market poised for rebound?

A "for sale" sign is pictured outside a home on 15th Avenue Southwest in Willmar. Local Realtors and mortgage experts believe the real estate market in an around the Willmar area is getting stronger ahead of the key spring and summer buying season. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- People who work with real estate in west central Minnesota say the market in the Willmar area may be ready to rebound.

In fact, some believe they started to see the signs of it last year. Several real estate professionals said in the past week that their phones have been ringing more lately, and they believe it indicates a market ready to gear up for spring and summer.

"The real estate market is alive and well here," said Kevin Hanson, who oversees Edina Realty offices in Willmar and in Hutchinson.

The market in the Willmar area and Kandiyohi County was not affected by the recession the way markets in the Twin Cities or in other parts of the country were.

"We've been insulated from the huge roller coasters in pricing," said Lisa Mord of All-Star Realty in Willmar.

"My opinion is we are going to have a better year than last year," Hanson said. "I truly believe that consumer confidence is rebounding."

Historically low interest rates should help in a market rebound, too.

"In my 30 years of real estate, this is hands down the best time to buy a house," Hanson said. Others echoed that sentiment.

"Now people can very realistically buy a home cheaper than they can rent," Mord said. "I have a really good feeling about 2012."

It's important to pay bills on time and to have a source of income, Mord said. Many people are deferred from home loans on their first try because of late payments.

Duaine Amundson of Heritage Bank in Willmar said he meets with potential borrowers to explain why they don't qualify for a loan. He gives them a list of things to do so they qualify in the future. Some come back to see him when they are ready to buy, he said.

Mortgage guidelines haven't changed greatly during the recession. "I don't think we have turned anybody down for a loan in the last two years that we wouldn't have turned down four years ago," Amundson said. "I think all lenders are doing a better job of credit counseling."

Nationwide, about 80 percent of loan applications are to refinance an existing mortgage, Amundson said. In this area, that number may be a bit lower, possibly 75 percent.

Brian Jensen of Lakes Area Realty in Spicer said the signs of improvement were there last summer, and "It seems to have carried through."

Hanson said MLS listings indicate that things improved from 2010 to 2011. Thirty more homes sold in Willmar and 50 more homes in Kandiyohi County from one year to the next.

So far this year, showings are up, possibly because of the mild winter, Hanson said.

Others agreed that the winter, typically a slow time of year, has been busier than usual.

"We are more encouraged than we've been in ... several years," Jensen said.

Prices seem to be rebounding a bit, and the area has enough houses on the market to give buyers choices, he said.

"If things continue the way they've been going the last few months, this may be a big turnaround year," he said.

Home values dropped everywhere during the recession. However, this area saw declines of about 10 percent on residential property, 20 percent on lakeshore property. In some parts of the country, values dropped by more than 50 percent, Amundson said.

"We don't hit the peaks in the good times, but we clearly don't hit the valleys," Amundson said. The area's strong agriculture economy and ag-related businesses helped maintain stability, he added.

The biggest peak in home values in the area was lakeshore property, Hanson said. "That was going so crazy so fast, it had to correct."

"I think we're starting to see values turn around," said Jensen. "They are no longer declining and appear to be increasing; it's what we need to be able to define a turnaround."

Foreclosures are part of the market, but they aren't for everybody. Often they require some updating or refurbishing, while many people are looking for homes in move-in condition.

A home in foreclosure "can be a good thing for someone who's handy and wants to fix it up," Mord said.

A large number of foreclosed homes can affect the market, Jensen said, but "I don't think our area got hit as hard as other areas."

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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