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All indicators faring well

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Jim Leute
October 21, 2012

— New vehicles are selling at an increasing pace at Rock County dealerships.

That's according to the state Department of Transportation, which tracks new vehicle registrations on a monthly basis.

In fact, new vehicle registrations for the third quarter of this year hit their highest mark in the last 10 quarters, according to The Gazette's quarterly dashboard that tracks several local economic indicators.

New vehicle sales is not alone in helping the dashboard reflect the best quarter since its inception in 2010.

Consumer sales were up, as were home sales and the prices they commanded. The local unemployment rate is down, as are the numbers of bankruptcy and foreclosure filings.

Vehicle sales, which include cars, trucks, motorcycles and motor homes, made the most significant jump in the recently closed quarter. The 2,023 registrations were the most to date, and they represented an increase of 15 percent over this year's second quarter.

"We're doing very well," said Jeff Hansing, general manager of Frank Boucher Chrysler Dodge Jeep and Volkswagen of Janesville. "Six out of the nine months of this year have been records for us.

"Our third quarter was up 24 percent, and we see no reason why that won't continue into the future."

Hansing said he can sense a significant improvement in consumer confidence when potential customers walk into his Milton Avenue showroom.

"People just seem happier entering the showroom," he said. "They are shopping and buying more with their emotions. They're coming in and talking about what they like or they want rather than what they simply need or what they need to fix."

The Boucher Automotive Group includes 16 dealerships that sell 16 brands. In addition to the Milton Avenue store, it operates Gordie Boucher Ford Lincoln Mercury Mazda of Janesville.

That dealership also is doing well this year, Hansing said.

"Janesville is a car town whether there's a car manufacturer in it or not," he said. "Out of our dealerships, this market is just one of the most enjoyable.

"We're successful here, and our customers are happy, which we measure closely with customer satisfaction surveys. These two stores are among the top four in the group in terms of volume and are considered a cornerstone of the business."

Here's a look at some of the other indicators and how they fared in The Gazette's most recent dashboard:

Home sales and average price

Existing home sales are poised for their best year since the recession.

So, too, is the average price paid for those homes.

Throughout the recession, sales prices were low because of a high number of distressed properties on the market. Foreclosed homes and bank-owned properties were sold for pennies on the dollar, which had a negative effect on the prices of non-distressed homes.

"The market is becoming much more stable, and I think that has a lot to do with fewer bank-owned properties for sale," said Colleen Nelson, president of the Rock-Green Realtors Association. "Our recent volume and average prices have been wonderful."

For the third quarter of this year, the average sales price was $118,254. That's up 11 percent from the third quarter of last year and 20 percent ahead of this year's first quarter, when local foreclosures spiked.

"We're seeing a lot more buyers getting off the fence and getting into the market," Nelson said. "We're also seeing sellers put their house up for sale because they think the market is more stable and competitive, with fewer distressed properties."

Retail sales

Despite projections of doom and gloom for the county's retailers after the loss of General Motors and the onset of the Great Recession, consumer spending in Rock County has remained relatively stable.

"I have been surprised and pleased that consumer spending in Rock County held up really well throughout the recession," said John Beckord, president of Forward Janesville. "The expected dramatic drop in spending as reflected in sales and use-tax collections just did not happen."

For the third quarter of this year, local use-tax collections indicate consumers spent $526 million. That makes this third quarter the best third quarter in the dashboard's history.



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