Home, new car sales slump; business owners upbeat about future

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— Jerry Thompson was glad to see some new Ford vehicles dropped off at his dealership recently.

The owner of Craig Ford said he could have been selling new cars for the past several months but that he hadn’t received any from the manufacturer.

“Inventory was low, and it looked kind of bad for us for a while,” Thompson said.

Part of the reason for a low stock of new cars on the lot was because Ford cut back on how many vehicles it built, and many of the vehicles that did come out went to filling back orders for the federal government’s Cash for Clunkers program.

Some of the shortage was self-imposed, as well, said Thom­pson, whose business depends on people’s willingness to spend thousands.

“I kind of cut back on orders for a while because I didn’t want to have too many in this market,” he said, referring to the nation’s economic downturn.

Most indicators show the recession came home to Moffat County during the summer, but the local businessman said he isn’t worried about taking on new vehicles now. Even ones such as the large super duty and supercab pickups that arrived in the past few weeks are in demand.

“People are waiting a little longer, but they’re still buying,” Thompson said.

Although he remains optimistic, official statistics show that residents aren’t buying as many big ticket items.

Sales for new vehicles and residential homes fell the past couple of years as the national recession began to rear itself in Moffat County.

According to figures provided by the Moffat County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, Moffat County residents registered 1,696 new vehicles in 2008, which were purchased locally and elsewhere.

The number of new vehicles in the county dropped about 22 percent in 2009, down to 1,316.

Reports from the offices of the Moffat County assessor and treasurer show a similar trend in residential home sales and foreclosures.

A total of 217 homes were sold in 2008, which dropped about 31 percent to 150 home sales in 2009.

At the same time, foreclosures rose about 67 percent in the same time frame, from 46 in 2008 to 77 in 2009.

Roy McAnally, Craig Asso­ciation of Realtors president and broker owner of American Northwest Realty, said the residential real estate market has been slower, particularly since the market explosion in 2007.

But he added with measured optimism that home prices are not falling and that foreclosures haven’t crept up as high as other communities.

“If we base our market on what is happening in the east slope, because that market is really the closest to what we have here, we should begin to see some up-tick in sales,” McAnally said.

“December was pretty encouraging around here,” he added. “We were a bit surprised in this office by what we did see, but it seemed to be a pretty good month for home sales.”

McAnally is right about home prices staying high. In fact, average sale prices for residential real estate increased each of the past three years, from $169,920 in 2007 to $172,119 in 2008 and $187,071 in 2009.

Those figures only include residential lots, not agricultural properties that also have ranch homes.

Those statistics give McAnally confidence that while the market might be slower, it is still healthy. He said he does not think sellers are asking too much for property now, or that the real estate market is due for a correction in prices.

“We really haven’t seen a huge increase in the number of foreclosures,” McAnally said. “When you start to see a large number of foreclosures, that’s when you see a change in the market.”

It seems, he added, that Moffat County’s housing market has paced right along with the area’s general economy: nothing is happening fast, and most people aren’t spending a lot of money, but things are stable and most people have steady employment.

If those trends continue, the housing market should be fine, he said.

“If unemployment goes up, people start to leave the area and that begins some foreclosures,” McAnally said. “Thankfully, I know that has happened some, but even though our oil and gas industry has left us in hordes, most people still have jobs.”

Back on his car lot, Thomp­son shares McAnally’s perspective.

He said the future looks good and that people can come to his business for any Ford car or truck available.

Whatever a customer wants or needs, Thompson said he can get it for them, just like he has done for the past few decades.

“I feel confident that we’re here to stay,” he said. “As far as new cars, we’re putting in orders for 2011 right now.”

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