CAUTIOUS optimism has greeted the property market in the new year, underpinned by a surprisingly strong result from the first major auction weekend.
The Real Estate Institute of Victoria has reported a 71 per cent clearance rate from 108 results, which compares favourably with 43 per cent over the equivalent weekend last year and 47 per cent in 2011.
While much better than the results from the past two years, the results are based on a small sample and the real market litmus test is expected on the weekend of February 23-24, when about 950 auctions are scheduled.
REIV spokesman Robert Larocca said: "It's all pointing in the right direction but very slowly. There's an improvement there but it's still got a way to go."
In Flinders on Sunday afternoon, two bidders competed for a beach house at 27-29 The Avenue, pushing the price $150,000 above its reserve of $1.35 million to sell for $1.505 million.
Kay & Burton agent Paul Armstrong said the prestige market on the peninsula had opened more strongly than it finished last year.
Auctions for the bumper Saturday on February 23 include a double-fronted two-storey Victorian terrace at 10 Erin Street, Richmond, which Jellis Craig is handling, and a five-bedroom villa at 120 Powlett Street, East Melbourne, on a large 752-square-metre lot, which Nelson Alexander is selling.
The prestige market got off to a good start last week with the sale of architect-developer Gabor Hubay's Macquarie Road, Toorak, home for $16 million.
Late last year, Jellis Craig sold 8 The Ridge in Canterbury at a twilight auction for $4.18 million.
Some agents see the late 16 per cent surge in sales numbers in the December quarter carrying over into the new year, but not for all areas of Melbourne, with others reporting low stock levels.
The west appears to have gotten off to a good start. Ray White Werribee agent Craig Burns held four auctions on Saturday and had five bidders for a four-bedroom two-storey house at 92 Barber Drive in Hoppers Crossing.
"We had 80 to 100 people turn up to Barber Drive and it sold for $446,000 under the hammer, which was about 10 per cent higher than we expected. There were five bidders but about 12 to 14 people who wanted to buy it," Mr Burns said.
But inner-suburbs specialist Arch Staver from Nelson Alexander said numbers were down on his patch.
"At this time of the year, I look at my calendar and I'm usually well and truly blocked out. This year I've got a lot of time on my hands. There's not a great deal for sale," Mr Staver said.
Buyer advocate Christopher Koren from Morrell & Koren agreed.
"It's slim pickings, I'm afraid. The problem of a lack of stock will continue," Mr Koren predicted. Agents have reported strong levels of inquiry and attendance at open for inspections this year but are not expecting any strong movements in prices.
Last week, reports from all research houses showed either modest increases or decreases in the median house price.