PEORIA — Area home sales were up 7.6 percent last year, compared to 2017 sales, according to the Peoria Area Association of Realtors.

The 2018 average sales price was $142,840, down slightly 2017's average price of $144,256. PAAR attributed that decline to increased sales activity of homes in the $175,000 to $225,000 price range while there was reduced activity in the $500,000+ price range.

The Peoria area showed the largest gain in home sales of any city in the state in 2018. Statewide, the Illinois home market saw sales drop by 2.5 percent last year compared to 2017.

At the end of December 2018, there were 2,291 homes in the Peoria-area market compared to 2,571 homes on the market at the end of 2017. That 10.9 percent decrease in the housing inventory, combined with attractive interest rates, could mean more home sales in 2019, said Suzanne Miller, PAAR president.

“It’s basic economics; supply and demand. With less inventory, buyers will need to be prepared to move quickly with a more competitive market,” she said.

Housing affordability has become a growing concern across the country, said Miller. While the median sales price nationally finished at a record $259,100 in 2018, the median price in the Peoria area held steady at $120,000.

The Caterpillar incentive program for transferring employees, which ended in December, may have accounted for only a small percentage of the overall housing market but helped sell homes in the mid to upper price ranges, she said.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Realtors, suggested an increase in new home construction, particularly in the moderately-priced category, could alleviate the nation's inventory shortage.

Steve Tarter covers city and county government for the Journal Star. He can be reached at 686-3260 or starter@pjstar.com. Follow him at Twitter@SteveTarter and facebook.com/tartersource.