Peninsula-area existing-home sales were up 18 percent last month, compared to December 2008.
Double-digit increases in sales in recent months helped buoy the housing market, but it wasn't enough to push year-end sales above 2008 figures.
Sales of all housing types on the Peninsula and Middle Peninsula were down nearly 5 percent in 2009, compared to 2008, according to the Real Estate Information Network Inc.
December gains in South Hampton Roads were higher, with existing-home sales up 40 percent. That pushed the South Hampton Roads 2009 sales volume of all housing types above 2008 by nearly 5 percent.
For the months leading up to December, the $8,000 tax credit was a big part of double-digit sales increases. But that trailed off last month because buyers rushed to close by Nov. 30, when the credit was supposed to expire, said Tom Sullivan, president of the Virginia Peninsula Association of Realtors.
He thinks last month's rise is because December 2008 was that bad. Late 2008 is when the local real estate market started taking a turn for the worse.
December's gains are especially noteworthy because it's traditionally a slow sales month. That, coupled with the fact that the median sales price of existing homes on the Peninsula was flat at about $187,000, compared to December 2008, might mean things are looking up, Sullivan said.
"I think we're up over last year because the market is improving," he said. "If we can maintain our own in December, I think that looks good in the future."
For the year, the median sales price of existing homes was down about 5 percent to $195,700, and the sales price of all housing types, including condos and new construction, was down almost 7 percent to $204,990.
About 24 percent — nearly a quarter — of resale homes sold in December were distressed sales, bank-owned or short-sale listings. That's the highest monthly percentage of distressed sales since the housing decline started, according to the Real Estate Information Network, or REIN.
"With distressed sales accounting for such a large portion of all sales, the housing market is not out of the woods yet and quite possibly has not bottomed," REIN said in a news release.
The extension of the $8,000 tax credit for first-time buyers and the new $6,500 tax credit for other buyers will have an effect in the months ahead, Sullivan said.
The $6,500 credit will prod existing homeowners to move up, freeing up affordable homes for those who qualify for the $8,000 credit, he said.
Last year, new construction suffered most, with sales down 29 percent on the Peninsula. The median sales price of new construction was down about 6 percent for the year to $266,620.
Peninsula-area condo sales were down, too, by nearly 7 percent. But Isle of Wight saw an increase in condos sold, to 31 from 27, and so did York, to 46 from 37.
Inventory levels are dropping closer to what's considered a balanced market — about five to six months.
"I think that's doable this year," Sullivan said.
It'll take about seven months at the current sales pace to clear the number of homes currently for sale in Newport News and York County.
It will take roughly eight months in Hampton, 11 months in Isle of Wight County and about a year in Poquoson.