Echoes of a protracted slowdown and hopes for a 2011 rebound resonated through the December meeting of the Statesboro Board of Realtors, where the group representing much of the local real estate industry installed officers for the coming year.
Concluding her term as 2010 president of the local board, Cindy Osborne of RE/MAX-Preferred Realty thanked fellow officers and committee members for remaining positive and "being so wonderful in doing what you've done and helping carry on through a very difficult year for most people."
Called on to install the 2011 officers, Hazel Hendrix, Georgia Association of Realtors regional director for Region 9, acknowledged the challenges ahead. Hendrix, an agent with Century 21-The Hunter Group in Statesboro, will soon begin her fifth year as regional director.
"Realtors Associations across the state of Georgia and the entire U.S. are facing challenges in a market unlike any in recent memory. ..." she said. "Our new leadership team will have to develop a new vision and demonstrate to the membership the benefits of being a Realtor."
Hendrix added that she knows the new officers are up the challenge.
Those officers include 2011 President Mary Foreman, who is owner and broker of Wise Choice Realty, President-Elect Jessica Herrmann with Century 21, Vice President Tracy Mallary of RE/MAX Preferred Realty, Treasurer Mandy Lane of ERA Landmark Realty, Secretary Debbie Hagan of Century 21-Hunter Group. Past President Cindy Osborne, one-year Director James Lawson of Prudential-Kennedy Realty, and two-year Director Jack Conner of Coldwell Banker-Tanner Realty.
Even the preacher giving seasonal remarks as guest speaker, Dr. Edgar Johnson, missionary for the Ogeechee River Baptist Association, appeared to reflect on the economy. Thinking "we'll never have it like this again," the innkeeper who turned away Mary and Joseph saw his guests only as potential sources of profit, and thus missed the Christmas miracle, Johnson said.
By all accounts the housing crash arrived a few months later in the Statesboro area than in many larger cities, but there's no denying that it came. In 2007, Board of Realtors members closed on 775 single-family home sales in Bulloch County. The number of houses they have sold has declined each year since, to just 299 in 2010 through the first week of December.
So the agents and brokers who met at Forest Heights Country Club on Dec. 8 are survivors, and their leaders say they are now beginning to glimpse light at the end of the tunnel.
"I think we're seeing a lot of things on the horizon that are going to make 2011 a better year," Mary Foreman, newly installed as 2011 president, said in an interview.
For one thing, single-family home sales handled by Realtors in Bulloch County increased from 17 in October to 28 in November. Meanwhile, the Realtors interviewed say that the commercial side of the business has remained relatively strong in the Statesboro area. Foreman mentioned some of the restaurants recently opened or still under construction, including Olive Garden, Cracker Barrel and Panera Bread.
But real estate people look to new or expanding industry for signs of a rebound in the housing market.
"We have some new industries coming into our area too," Foreman said. "The Great Dane plant coming in, I think that's going to help a lot, and the university is still growing, so we've got a lot in Bulloch County to be thankful for."
Meanwhile, talking points that the Georgia Association of Realtors has put out for its people in leadership positions statewide stress that this a prime time for buyers.
"It's never been a better time to buy real estate," said Foreman. "Interest rates are down, the selection is great, the prices are down. So for buyers, now is the time."
The downturn has impacted local Board of Realtors membership, but not as dramatically as the 60 percent plunge in annual home sales volume over the past three years might suggest.
Outgoing 2010 Statesboro Board of Realtors secretary Larry K. Williams of Century 21-The Hunter Group reported that, of 156 members this year, 139 have renewed their membership for 2011. Not all have paid their dues yet, he said, so the 10.9 percent drop this indicates could get a little worse before it gets better.
Those numbers are "really not too bad, considering the times," Williams said.
"The 156 to 160 is probably pretty close to the highs, and it's probably been petty stable through the good years," he said. "But obviously, during this downturn, we've had some people who've just found other things to do."
However, there are still local people interested in becoming real estate professionals. As reported during the meeting, six new Board of Realtors members graduated from an annual orientation held in November.
"Realtor", incidentally, is not a term that can be applied to everybody in the real estate business. It's a trademarked name for members of a nationwide trade association, and the Georgia Association of Realtors, with more than 34,000 members, bills itself as the largest trade association in the state.
Also mentioned during last week's local meeting, Realtors are lobbying against the proposed elimination of the home mortgage interest deduction on federal income taxes. Some members of Congress see ending the deduction, which now costs the government about $130 billion a year, as a necessary step for deficit reduction.
But real estate groups view loss of the exemption as a new threat just as they are looking hard for the first signs of a rebound.
"In a market where we're already had such a downturn, I can't imagine anything worse than that," Foreman said.
In addition to installing their new officers on Dec. 8, the Statesboro Realtors presented an appreciation gift to their association executive, Celia Grimes, and confirmed plans for their annual banquet on Jan. 13.