By Tom Polansek
(Reuters) - Realty brokers in battered Ferguson, Missouri, are predicting many homes could go up for sale early next year after rioting over the August police shooting of a black teenager appeared to put a chill on the number of active listings.
Some homeowners are eager to leave Ferguson because of racially charged unrest over the past three months, brokers told Reuters. In the latest violence, stores were looted and set ablaze after a grand jury decided on Monday not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown.
"There's no question that we have people wanting to leave because of the unrest,” said Pearce Neikirk, a long-time real estate broker in Ferguson.
A number of real estate brokers said they had expected to see "panic selling" after the shooting ignited violence and weeks of protests over the summer and fall.
But that didn't materialize. In fact, the number of active listings among private sellers from August to October was down 22 percent from a year earlier at 211 houses, according to data from MORE Realtors, which sells homes in the St. Louis area. It was the smallest number of houses listed during that period since at least 2009.
By comparison, the average number of active listings was down about 7 percent on the year from January to July, prior to the shooting. In all of St. Louis County, which includes Ferguson, the average number of active listings was down about 12 to 13 percent on the year in the months before and after the shootings, according to data from MORE.
It now appears prospective sellers in Ferguson are waiting to list their properties in spring, when the residential real estate market usually picks up, brokers said. They hope to be able to sell at a higher price by delaying the listing a few months.
The intense media focus on Ferguson will likely also have shifted by then, barring any further violence, meaning fewer negative headlines to scare off prospective buyers.
Neikirk said he was surprised the market had held up relatively well in Ferguson. But he expects the number of home listings early next year will climb up to 30 percent from 2014 as residents seek to leave town. He did not say how he arrived at that figure.
Private parties in Ferguson listed 72 homes and made eight sales last month, down from 89 listings and 11 sales in October 2013, according to MORE Realtors. The average median sale price last month was $66,500, up from $38,000 a year earlier.
Neikirk said the average price went up because more expensive homes were being sold. Some potential buyers are no longer considering Ferguson due to the protests, but others are still attending showings, brokers said.
Ferguson has seen a stark demographic shift in recent decades, going from an overwhelmingly white population in the 1970s to two-thirds African American today. With a population of 21,000 people, Ferguson has about 8,500 households. The median value of owner-occupied units from 2008 to 2012 was $95,300, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
David Pope, an independent real estate broker, said he did not expect to see further “white flight” from Ferguson as a result of the riots. So far, homeowners looking to sell seem to be mixed between white and black, Neikerk said.
Dennis Norman, a broker and partner for MORE, said homeowners in a position to sell will watch to see if burned-out buildings in Ferguson's business district are repaired.
If that rebuilding effort does not materialize, "that might be when they all decide to jump on the bandwagon and get out," he said.
The commercial market seems likely to remain jittery, too. Pope has been unable to find a buyer for a Ferguson building with 12 apartment units and ground-floor retail space - even before protesters this week smashed the windows of the retail shops.
"If I had to sell it today, I'd probably have to give it away," he said.
(Reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago, editing by Ross Colvin)