The mood of local real estate professionals ranged from optimistic to concerned at this year’s Statesboro Board of Realtors annual dinner and awards banquet. With a somber mood hanging over the country’s economy driven by the continued crisis in the mortgage and real estate markets nationwide, Bulloch County realtors readily acknowledged that the residential real estate boom of the last several years appears to have stalled.
“We are approaching the 2008 selling season not knowing for certain what awaits,” said Jack Connor, president of the Statesboro Board of Realtors and owner of Coldwell Banker Tanner Realty. “Even though the national market continues to have areas of distress, our local market has held strong in the sense that homes are still selling and prices have not dropped. However, we are not immune to some aspects of the real estate market slowdown.”
Connor said the average number of days that a home is on the market locally has increased. He also said the Bulloch real estate market has experienced a slower than usual November and December.
“It seems that the largest obstacles we are facing are the buyer’s ability to sell their home located in another market and concerns generated from negative national press,” he said.
Connor has reason to be somewhat optimistic as the gross volume of real estate sales in Bulloch County as recorded through the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) increased slightly in 2007 from 2006. MLS is the property database used by real estate professionals to list properties for sale. Properties which are “sold by owner” or those transacted without a real estate agent are not represented in the MLS. MLS transactions represent the vast majority of real estate sold in Bulloch County.
“!n 2006, there was $192 million in real estate sales transactions of MLS listed properties in Bulloch County,” Connor said. “In 2007, there was $193 million in real estate sales transactions of MLS properties.”
While the numbers may be very close, there is one big difference from 2006 to 2007. According to Shannon Grindler, a real estate agent with Prudential Kennedy Realty and the immediate past president of the Statesboro Board of Realtors, there were 129 real estate agents that sold the properties represented in the 2006 MLS numbers and 167 agents represented in the 2007 numbers.
“The reality is that you have a significant increase in the number of agents, and not in the amount of real estate being sold,” she said. “The competition is much more intense, and like anything else, there are easier times and more difficult times. This is clearly a difficult time. It may sound funny to say, but years like 2005 don’t appear to be on the horizon any time soon.”
In 2005, real estate sales of MLS properties totaled $156 million in Bulloch County with 89 selling agents. Not only has there been a change in the dynamics of the market from a sales standpoint, but the amount of investment housing that is being built and sold has dramatically increased.
The top selling real estate agent in Bulloch County in 2007 was David Lumpkin, the owner of Remax Preferred Realty. Lumpkin said a significant amount of his sales were residential investment properties purchased by parents of Georgia Southern students.
“Thomas Finch and I developed and sold 58 four bedroom houses in Burkhalter Plantation,” Lumpkin said. “These were sold to parents of college students who were looking for some investment housing to put their children in. We sold 56 of the units in three weeks at the beginning of last year.”
Lumpkin said he and his partner have phase II in production which will entail 76 home sites. “I expect that we will have the same type of success with these units that we had with phase I,” he said. “We will just have to see. It is true that the residential market is slow, but new investment housing seems to have remained strong.”
Lumpkin, Connor, and Sam Dipolito were the top three selling agents in Bulloch County last year.
“I have been in the real estate business here for over 22 years,” Dipolito said. “This past year was the first year that I have seen the market stabilize for lack of a better word. It really just didn’t grow.”
Dipolito said the number of properties on the market dramatically increased, but the overall sales volume did not which has led to an oversupply.
“Sales just aren’t falling into people’s laps like they have in the past several years,” he said. “You have to get out there and really work. I think you will begin to see some attrition in the number of agents.”
One of those “new” agents that has been very successful is Tracy Mallary of Tom Clune Realty. Mallary was involved in 28 real estate transactions in 2007. Mallary’s secret is simple - work hard all day long, every day.
“To me, it is all in how much you get after it,” Mallary said. “The sales are there, it just involves a tremendous amount of hard work. Statesboro is continuing to grow, and I really think we are just in the beginning stages. This is and is going to continue to be a great market. That’s the way I feel, and I hope that I am right.”
Connor said no one really knows what to expect in real estate sales this year, but conditions are “ripe” for a turn around.
“This year could prove to be the best time in years to purchase considering the availability of housing, days on market increasing, and mortgage rate dropping to near 5 percent,” he said. “We do feel it will be April or May before we are able to objectively diagnose the local market considering our traditional selling season.”