Like millions of Americans, residents of Bulloch County rode the real estate wave in the 1990s. But unlike many communities, Statesboro claimed a growing college, which helped to accelerate the economic boom in the area.
In the mid 1980s, Georgia Southern College’s enrollment was 7,000 students and the largest manufacturer in town was ITT Grinnell Corporation with 700 employees.
“A new paradigm in real estate was created by GSU because it attracted many out-of-town investors that developed the apartment complexes,” said Sam DiPolito, who has sold Bulloch County real estate for Prudential Kennedy Realty for 22 years. “In addition, the apartment complexes created a new market of financier parents that would invest in apartments for their children.”
“During this time we saw drastic changes on the home front as well,” said Betty Minick, who started her career in realty in 1978 and now co-owns ERA Landmark Realty. “There were not many choices of subdivisions back then.
When Lorraine Pugliano and her husband started building in Hazelwood Subdivision in 1979 and built in there until 1986, the housing landscape of Statesboro changed dramatically.
“She was one smart woman,” Minick said. “Four-bedroom homes in our market were rare and when she started building the interest rates were at a staggering 15 percent. But Lorraine discovered on rural land surrounded by farming activity, homeowners could qualify for Ag South loans for a fixed 9.25 percent loan.
“While standing at the site, Lorraine drew her plans on the back side of freezer paper and designed these new homes with the laundry room in the center of the house. She would come back later and her husband/builder Pug and his crew would have the laundry room plumbed out in the garage. She would tell them, ‘Tear it out and put it in the middle of the house,’” Minick remembered. “These four-bedroom homes with hall baths, bathrooms with long countertops housing two sinks and kitchens with islands were cutting edge for Statesboro and they sold quickly. This gutsy woman truly revolutionized the design of Statesboro homes for us.”
Because of this growth at Georgia Southern and in the community, commercial real estate began booming in 1990, which, in turn, prompted extreme economic growth and promoted larger number of newcomers moving into the area.
“In 1986, there were only three to four builders in town,” DiPolito said.
Today there are 71 members of the Homebuilders Association of Statesboro. In the mid-1980s, residential lots cost $5,000 to $7,000 and in 2008 one can be listed at $40,000 for a single lot in an upscale subdivision. During the last two decades, population growth came from surrounding areas where manufacturing companies’ mid-management people have chosen Statesboro as their home.
“Savannah continues to affect our market as well,” DiPolito said. “It’s hard to know how many Gulfstream employees live in Statesboro. They’ve been able to buy larger square footage homes here. Our tax base and crime rate is lower; and our school system offers a quality education.”
Another market that has intensified for realtors is retirees coming from Florida.
“I’ve worked with many couples from Florida that left because of the storms, tax increases, inability to buy insurance, crime rate and crowdedness,” DiPolito said. “We have everything to offer retirees … a pleasant, safe and clean environment with a lot of amenities and options for active living in a university town.”
Statesboro’s widespread growth has not been immune though to the nation’s “easy credit” mentality. During the last decade, both DiPolito and Minick say they worried about the state of mortgage affairs.
“Variable rate loans, interest only loans, and 80/20 loans that have gone on in the last five to seven years continue to wreak havoc for homebuyers,” Dipolito said. “The mindset that people could buy a home with an interest only loan and could sell it a few years later and make a big profit was ludicrous.”
Minick concurs and believes the mortgage industry did this to themselves.
“They made qualifications so low and I knew there would be a day of reckoning,” she said.
Although living in times when American people are debt heavy, as two seasoned professionals, DiPolito and Minick share a love for real estate that fuels them to be successful in good and bad times.
“It’s an exciting business because I meet lots of folks from all walks of life,” Minick said. “I like the challenge of finding a house to fit a particular family and that makes it interesting. And, of course, it’s hard to slow down when you like what you do.”
For DiPolito, the essence of what drives him to succeed is the same.
“I go into this job each day knowing that buying a home is a big ticket investment,” he said. “If you do your job, do your homework and try to fit people to what they can afford and want, you’ve done a good service and it feels good inside.”