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Bulloch real estate still strong

Downturn in national home sales hasn’t hit home – yet

     Statesboro's red-hot residential real estate market has experienced a slow down in the past few months. Nonetheless, local realtors say the downturn in sales has yet to impact local home values or the number of real estate professionals setting up shop in this area.

     "We have certainly seen a slow down in our market, really since last fall," said Shannon Grindler, president of the Statesboro Board of Realtors and an associate broker with Prudential Kennedy Realty.

     "The days that a home stays on the market have gone up, and the amount of inventory on the market has gone up," Grindler said. "But, the difference in this market from other markets is that homes here are continuing to sell and prices have not gone down."

     Jack Conner, owner of Coldwell Banker-Tanner Realty in Statesboro, provided statistics from the local real estate data base showing that there are more than 550 single family homes on the market in Bulloch County alone.

     "We have more homes listed than we have ever had," said Everett Kennedy, owner of Prudential Kennedy Realty in Statesboro. "I don't want to sound alarm bells, because our area is growing in a lot of ways. But, there has been a little bit of a drop-off in the last few months, and that is one of the reasons that we have more properties on the market than ever before."

     Conner acknowledged the "drop-off" that Kennedy referenced citing it was almost an inevitability given the rate homes had been selling over the last two to three years.

     "The market here has been so good for so long, that it isn't really surprising that we have had some decrease in home sales of late," Conner said. "Last year overall was the biggest year that a lot of agencies have ever had, including mine."

     In fact, Conner's agency recently was recognized by Coldwell Banker for selling more "units" in 2006 than any other agency of its size – 11 to 20 agents – in the entire country. Conner's agency bested 629 other Coldwell Banker agencies scattered throughout United States.

     "Our agents worked so hard that I can't even tell you," Conner said. "This is quite an honor, but it is also a testament to the growth here and opportunity that is here."

     The "opportunity" Conner that references has attracted a number of people to the real estate industry in Bulloch County. That growth is being felt by the local Board of Realtors.

     "Locally, as a profession, we are experiencing growth pains," Grindler said. "It isn't just the Statesboro market being sold by Statesboro residents anymore. It is part of a bigger market that is being sold by agents from Savannah and Hinesville. Since we police ourselves professionally, that makes it harder."

     Grindler said the every increasing number of real estate professionals in this area is not typical of the industry statewide. She said there are now 190 members of the Statesboro Board of Realtors with 34 of them joining the Board since last January.

     "Statewide, we are seeing boards of realtors contract as the real estate market slows," she said. "Statesboro has seen the opposite, and we are trying to keep up with it."

     "I don't know for sure, but I think at least 85 to 90 percent of our members are real estate agents," she said. "So you can see just how many agents are working in this market. The rest of our members are people that are affiliated with real estate here such as bankers, attorneys, and pest control companies."

     Faye Hunter, owner of Century 21 - The Hunter Group in Statesboro, said her agency also had its best year ever and has been awarded Century 21's Gold Medallion Award which recognizes agencies that earned over $1.166 million in gross sales commissions in the previous year (2006).

     "We clearly began seeing things slack off somewhat at the end of last year, but of late we are seeing the market pick back up," Hunter said. "I don't think this year is going to be as good as last necessarily, but I do believe that it is going to be a very good year."

     Hunter said she feels as if Statesboro has been "discovered" and people just want to "get here."

     "I really feel like we are on the map now as a desirable place to live and retire," Hunter said. "We have a lot of people coming here from Florida and different places. Property values have really gone up, but we are still very affordable."

     Kennedy feels that affordability is going to keep the Statesboro market experiencing steady growth.

     "We still have a whole lot to offer at a lesser price," Kennedy said. "We are experiencing a short-term slowdown and an increased supply, but there is still plenty of upside here. I am very optimistic."

     Arlene Davis, a realtor in Vidalia, is the president of the Georgia Association of Realtors, a 44,000-member professional association based in Atlanta. Davis said the slow down in the Statesboro market is typical of what has happened around the state.

     "This has happened all over Georgia," Davis said. "However, the southeastern region appears to be rebounding somewhat with the market returning to where it should be, a normal market of sorts."

     Davis predicts the continuation of a strong real estate market for this area.

     "Based on a lot of different factors, the southeastern region of Georgia will see significant growth during the next five to ten years," Davis said. "We are a viable option financially for those being squeezed out of areas like Florida due to the cost of living. Our weather is desirable and this is a great area of the country to raise family. All of those factors combined point to continued growth."

     Local realtor, Mary Foreman, owner of Wise Choice Realty, feels an influx of new industry would supply a "shot in the arm" to the local market.

     "Our market here in Bulloch County has been great," Foreman said. "We have sold more in the last four years than ever before and last year was our biggest."

     "What we would really like to see is more industry come here," Foreman said. "That would really help move some of this new construction that is on the market. Regardless, we still expect to have a good year."

     Foreman said she isn't sure where all of the buyers for the houses being built are coming from.

     "I have been in this business for a long time, and I don't have an answer to that question," Foreman said. "I ask myself that every day."

     Davis said the market has changed, and it is now a buyers' market, something sellers are going to have to get used to.

     "It has been a sellers' market for so long now that sellers are having a hard time adjusting to the new reality," Davis said. "It is now a buyers' market and everyone is going to have to adjust their expectations accordingly."

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