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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
And I'm Linda Wertheimer.
The July figures are out for sales of existing homes. Sales are down 27 percent to their lowest level in 15 years. Economists say it's unlikely the housing market will experience a significant recovery until the country's job market improves.
NPR's Jeff Brady has our story from Denver.
JEFF BRADY: Denver didn't have the run-up in prices over the past decade that cities like Las Vegas, Miami and Phoenix did. So prices haven't fallen through the floor. Still, there's pain here. Ask Bob Lynn, who co-owns Peak Property Development Company.
Mr. BOB LYNN (Peak Property Development Company): We're a fix-and-flip company. We buy houses, fix them up and sell them.
BRADY: Inside one of those houses just east of downtown Denver, Lynn points out all the extras he installed to make this house appealing to buyers. He raised the ceiling, put new granite counters in the kitchen and installed wood floors. The sales price is pretty close to the median for this neighborhood.
Mr. LYNN: 295,000.
BRADY: And is that what you expected?
Mr. LYNN: No, I expected 325.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BRADY: And it took a little longer than you expected to sell it?
LYNN: Yeah, it took way too long.
BRADY: Nine months, says Lynn. He's accustomed to his projects selling before he's even done. But he says lenders are extra picky on loan applications these days. And even with interest rates well under five percent, Lynn says buyers are still hesitant, not sure if the bottom of the market has arrived.
But there are some people benefiting from the current market and Lynn doesn't have to look far to find them. His business partner, Fred Schneider, is out sprucing up the front yard. He bought his condo just six months back.
Mr. FRED SCHNEIDER (Peak Property Development Company): It's a third story. It's got a fireplace and washer/dryer. It's about 1,050 square feet, which is pretty good size. Great mountain views.
BRADY: Schneider says he took advantage of the federal tax credit for first-time home buyers that expired at the end of April. And he says the place was a steal. He says it changed hands just a few years before he bought it.
Mr. SCHNEIDER: It sold for 96,000, and we picked it up for 44.
BRADY: Wow. That's a big difference.
Mr. SCHNEIDER: It's a huge difference.
BRADY: Predicting when the housing market is going to turn around is occupying a lot of smart minds these days. Just before the tax credit expired, existing home sales went up, but then after the credit they went down again.
Professor WILLIAM WHEATON (M.I.T.): Well, it's kind of in limbo. That would be the best way to describe it.
BRADY: William Wheaton is an economics professor at M.I.T. who specializes in the real estate market.
Prof. WHEATON: I think when the economy recovers, or starts to recover, we'll see a pick-up in sales, and as long as the level of building activity stays low, the inventory should continue to decline and that'll set the stage for a recovery in prices.
BRADY: Meanwhile, investors will be watching the numbers. Tomorrow, the Commerce Department releases statistics on new home sales for July.
Jeff Brady, NPR News, Denver.
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