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Realtors eye better 2010
Sales of homes are expected to picked up for the new year
Remax for Business
Cindy Osborne, owner of Re/Max Preferred Realty, was installed recently as president of the Statesboro Board of Realtors. - photo by JAMES HEALY/staff
    A prime focus of business everywhere, the real estate market remains a fundamental indicator of our nation’s economic health. The latest reports cite upticks in housing starts which were preceded by a percentage increase in new home sales driven by the first time homebuyer’s federal tax credit.
    As with real estate agents across the country, real estate agents in the Statesboro area have weathered the slowest residential sales year in the last several. Even so, newly elected Statesboro Board of Realtors president Cindy Osborne said the real estate community has much to be optimistic about.
    “I guess the biggest positive is that property values here have remained relatively intact,” said Osborne, owner of RE/MAX Preferred Realty in the Market District development on Fair Road. “Other markets around the state such as Atlanta and Savannah have seen significant declines in values, and thank goodness, we have not. We have seen some decline, but not nearly what they have experienced.  I think that is a real reason to be optimistic.”
    The Associated Press reported earlier in the month that sales of new homes rose more than six percent in October. The surge in sales was driven entirely by a 23 percent increase in the South.
Home prices rose in 11 major metro areas in September, but fell in nine. Home resales, meanwhile, were up nationwide with the biggest gain in the Midwest. Taken together, the data show that the housing market’s recovery is still in its infancy and likely to be bumpy.
    Current residential sales numbers provided by local realtor Shannon Grindler have 361 “stick built” single family residences being sold through a realtor in Bulloch County so far this year. “It looks as if we are going to be about 20 percent below our sales numbers from last year,” Osborne said. “All in all, that really isn’t that bad considering what other markets have done. The reality that is that our market is doing what it was doing five and six years ago, and we all thought that was pretty good at the time.”    
    Both the economy and the housing market are being propped up with unprecedented government intervention. The Obama administration is trying to limit the supply of foreclosures with a mortgage relief program, while attracting more buyers with tax incentives. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve is keeping interest rates low.
    “The largest number of sales in Bulloch County this year occurred in the $126,000 to $150,000 range,” said Osborne. “There have been 96 homes sold so far this year in that range. Those are your first time home buyers and those sales were driven in large part by the $8,000 federal tax credit. People that were on the fence about buying a home really have taken advantage of that program.”
    The referred to federal tax credit has been extended to cover contracts signed by April 30, 2010, and analysts expect it to further the housing recovery in the coming months.
    Osborne said that she and her fellow realtors report strong interest from the buying public, but securing financing continues to be difficult. “It isn’t that people don’t want to buy a home, it is just that is so very difficult to get a mortgage,” she said. “Eventually, if you have a good credit rating, and your income is substantiated, you can get a mortgage,” she said. “The process is taking longer and longer, because the rules keep changing. It isn’t the fault of the banks and those that originate the loans, it’s just the rules are changing every day. It is so hard on everybody.”
    A reflection of the slowing housing market is the number of building permits that have been issued in Bulloch County in 2009. A spokesman for the office which issues building permits for the county reports that only 146 residential building permits have been issued this year down from 243 last year. In fact, 142 permits have been issued for mobile homes, almost as many as for residential construction.
    “There really are very, very few ‘spec’ homes being built, in fact, there really aren’t a whole lot of new homes on the market right now,” Osborne said.
    According to Grindler, as of December 14, there were 551 single family listings being offered through the Multiple Listing Service which is the listing service used by real estate agents. That number is down approximately 25 percent from a year ago. That is good news, but the time a home is on the market has increased.
    “A year ago, you could expect your home to be on the market for two to four months,” Osborne said. “Now, you should plan for four to six months. That is what the statistics are showing us. It may take a little longer, but our market is still very busy, and that is something that we can all be grateful for, and in my opinion, we have Georgia Southern to thank for that.”