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2018 was a banner year for Northland real estate. This year should be, too.

Just a quick glance at the charts will tell you 2018 was an exceptional year for real estate in the Northland.

Median home sale price? New record high. New listings and closed sales? Most since 2005. Days on the market and available inventory? Lowest in years.

"I think the data speaks for itself — we found that we were as busy as we've ever been in 2018," said Steve McConnell, president of the Lake Superior Area Realtors board.

It probably won't slow down much as more buyers compete for a limited number of homes.

"I would expect more of the same for our local markets in 2019," said Mary Rich-Raj, mortgage sales manager for U.S. Bank Home Mortgage in Duluth. "I believe we will see another seller's market with tight inventory and a competitive landscape for buyers."

McConnell called it a "perfect storm" of low supply, high demand and low interest rates.

"I've been in the business 40 years and look at some of these rates and say — free money," he said.

Mortgage rates dropped last week to their lowest point since April as the Federal Reserve signaled it is backing off rate hikes for the time being.

While financing costs might remain within reach for many, home prices continue to rise.

Throughout Northeastern Minnesota last year, the median home sale price rose to $168,000, a 4.3 percent increase from 2017, according to data from Lake Superior Area Realtors. In markets like Duluth, Hermantown and Cloquet, the increase was even sharper.

"At what point will the consumer continue to buy as prices go up, is what it comes down to," said Joe Johnson, head of the mortgage division at North Shore Bank in Duluth.

Sellers on average received about 95 percent of their asking price in 2018. And they moved at breakneck speed last summer with Northland homes averaging 43 days on the market. While a great statistic for sellers, that can be frustrating for buyers who might be facing some intense competition.

"It's really important to be extremely aware of properties as the come to the market," McConnell said. "On a property where we're finding multiple offers, getting that first shot is real important."

Rich-Raj said buyers should get pre-approved — a step beyond pre-qualified — to put their best foot forward. With that in mind, she said, "This can be a very rewarding environment for both buyers and sellers — don't be discouraged in 2019."

Brooks Johnson

Brooks is an investigative/enterprise reporter and business columnist at the Duluth News Tribune.

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