Home sales in Lafayette post strong first quarter despite fears of wobbly energy sector _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- A new home is under construction Wednesday in the Del Mar Estates Subdivision in Lafayette.

Home sales in Lafayette Parish were strong in the first quarter of 2015, climbing above last year’s numbers even as weak oil prices raise the specter of a downturn in the oil patch.

Sales for January, February and March were up 7 percent compared with the same period in 2014, according to an analysis released Wednesday by Van Eaton & Romero Chief Executive Officer Bill Bacqué using figures from the Realtor Association of Acadiana.

Homes also sold faster in the first quarter of 2015 — an average of 87 days on the market versus 99 in 2014 — and the median sales price rose about 4 percent, from $187,837 to $195,000, according to the market analysis.

“Quite frankly, I’m just as surprised as everyone else,” Bacqué said.

He said most real estate professionals have been fretting the impact of weak oil prices, considering how much the local economy depends on the oil-and-gas industry.

“We’ve been expecting to see something show up. As of yet, it really hasn’t,” he said.

Overall, Lafayette’s economy has been fairly stable.

Unemployment has bumped up, and there have been scattered announcements of oil patch layoffs.

But home sales and the retail sector have persevered, and according to figures from city-parish government, Lafayette’s 2-cent share of the local sales tax brought in about $376,000 more in February 2015 than in February 2014.

Bacqué said one factor could be the number of the oil-and-gas service companies in the Lafayette area working on deepwater offshore projects, massive and long-term drilling operations that are less susceptible to price swings in the oil market, at least in the short term.

“Perhaps that is insulating us to a certain degree,” Bacqué said.

Another factor, he said, is the diversification of the Lafayette economy.

Lafayette Economic Development Authority President and CEO Gregg Gothreaux, at a meeting with real estate professionals last week, described Acadiana as having a more diverse and resilient economy than the one that foundered when oil prices plunged in the 1980s.

At the time, oil and gas businesses accounted for more than 70 percent of economic activity in Lafayette, but that figure is now at 45 percent, with health care, entertainment and technology emerging in recent decades as vital sectors, Gothreaux said.

Bacqué said there is one other possible explanation: The impact of weak oil prices has just been delayed.

“If you say the sky is falling, maybe the hammer really hasn’t fallen yet,” he said.

But he said the trend of strong sales seems likely to continue for the near future, because pending home sales in March 2015 were 20 percent above March 2014.

Follow Richard Burgess on Twitter, @rbb100.