Area Real Estate Market Seeing Signs of Comeback
Brad Thomson looked at a number of homes in Seven Lakes on Thursday.
He and his wife finally got their house in Deercoft in neighboring Scotland County under contract. They put it on the market last August after he took a job as a fifth-grade teacher at West End Elementary School. His wife already works in Moore County as a dental hygienist. They have two children.
"Prices look pretty reasonable," said Thomson, who taught in Scotland County for eight years. "We probably didn't get as much for our home as we would have, had the market been better. But it is all comparable. We also want to lock in on an interest rate before they go up."
They are in the market at a perfect time, according to many Realtors in Moore County.
"This is a great time to be in the market for a house," said Martha Gentry, of RE/MAX Prime Properties. "We have a great inventory of homes, and prices are good. Interest rates are low. This can also be a good time to sell. We just want people to be realistic in their expectations."
Despite all the doom and gloom nationally about the real estate market, Moore County is holding its own, according to Tim Venjohn, a Realtor with Rhodes and Co. in Southern Pines. He is also president of the Pinehurst-Southern Pines Area Association of Realtors.
"We have a very stable market," he said last week. "Some people look at the national stuff and think that is happening here. But that is not the case. Moore County is like an oasis. We have so many positives -- an excellent school system, great medical facilities, wonderful resort and recreational facilities and the military. People want to move here.
"We have slightly more inventory and a few less buyers now, so it might take a little longer to sell a house. Our prices are very stable. We have seen a lot more activity in the last 45 days. We put as much under contract as we did in six months. I think things are starting to turn around."
Shannon Stites, a Realtor with Keller Williams who was showing homes to the Thomsons, agrees with that assessment.
"I am as busy as I have ever been," said Stites, who just opened an office in Seven Lakes. "I have seen a huge pickup."
Kay Beran, president of Prudential GOS Real Estate in Southern Pines, also finds reason for optimism.
"Looking at our pending activity so far this year, I am pleasantly surprised to see that it is equal to a year ago," she said. "If we can keep enough pending activity (property under contract that is expected to close), over the next several months, we will be fine. We didn't have that cushion in the first quarter."
National Trend Mirrored
According to the local Realtors Association, 119 homes were sold in the first three months of the year, while 67 were sold in April alone. While that is down from about 248 homes that were sold this time last year, this April was slightly better than the same month in 2008.
That mirrors the national trend. The National Association of Realtors reported that sales of existing homes in April rose 2.9 percent. Compared with January, the lowest point in the housing recession, April sales were up nearly 4 percent. But compared with the peak in September 2005, sales are still down 35 percent, the national group said.
Foreclosures and other distressed sales made up about 45 percent of all transactions in April, according to the National Realtors group. But that was not the case in Moore County, Venjohn said. Moore County has had only a handful of foreclosure sales.
Nearly 1,100 single-family homes are on the market now, according to the local Realtors Association. During a typical year, the number drops to about 800 in the summer, Venjohn said. During the boom year in 2005, it dropped to about 550.
While home prices have fallen nationally -- the median sales price plunged to $170,200, down from $201,300 in the same month last year, the second-largest price drop on record after January, when prices fell 17.5 percent -- the falloff has been minimal in Moore County.
The average price of a home in April was $268,700, down from $277,400 for 2008, according to the local Realtors Association. But the figure is 5.5 percent higher than 2005, the height of the real estate market, Venjohn said.
"Our prices are very stable," Venjohn said. "We feel very good about where we are."
Beran emphasized that buyers and sellers alike need to take a realistic approach. She said lending is still a bit tight but is getting better.
"I am cautiously optimistic," she said. "Lenders will find a way to meet the buyers' needs in the buyers' market. They are being faced with more challenges. Loans must pass a lot more scrutiny."
Jerry Ocheltreee, president and CEO of First Bank, said the credit squeeze has been easing.
"If you have a good credit rating, the credit is available," he said. "There is certainly a lot of inventory out there. Rates are still low."
Good Time for First Buyers
Most of the increased activity in Moore County has been in homes priced in the $100,000 to $300,000 range, according to the local Realtors Association.
About 179 homes out of 534 in that category, have been sold this year, according to Gentry.
Some of that can be attributed to more first-time home buyers in the market who are taking advantage of an $8,000 tax credit.
Jakia and Theron Brewer are among those first-time buyers. Venjohn was showing them homes in the Blue Farm subdivision near Whispering Pines Thursday afternoon.
"We have been out looking," Jakia said. "We have found a lot of houses that we like. There is a great variety out there. We feel like we are ready, and this is a good time to be looking."
Her husband just finished graduate school and is teaching math at Sandhills Community College. She works as a case manager for Cardinal Clinic in Southern Pines and is finishing graduate school. They are both from Moore County.
"We wanted to buy a home and settle in the area where we grew up," Jakia said.
She said they hope to take advantage of the first-time home buyer credit and were looking into how they could use it.
Coble Pushes Credit Bill
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Congressman Howard Coble, a Greensboro Republican who represents Moore County, announced that he has introduced legislation that would extend a tax credit for would-be home buyers, scheduled to expire at the end of the year, through 2010 to spur the housing market.
Coble said his bill, which he has dubbed the "HOME" Act of 2009, stands for "Home Ownership Moves the Economy."
Under his legislation, the tax credit would be for all home buyers. It is currently limited to first-time home buyers. In addition, there would be no income limit on who would be eligible for the tax credit, but it does keep the $8,000 tax credit cap in place.
Coble said the bill could have a widespread impact on our struggling U.S. economy.
"As we have seen in the past, when the real estate market is thriving, so is the rest of our economy," Coble said in a news release. "Now we are experiencing the dire consequences of a slumping housing market. I believe our HOME Act of 2009 would convince many who are sitting on the fence right now to climb down and purchase a new home.
"Our entire economy would be the beneficiary of these new sales. Extending the tax credit to all home purchases could be just the boost our housing market needs."
Venjohn said he applauded Coble and agreed that the bill would certainly help.
"We are very pleased by this," he said.
Slower Sales on High End
While the increased activity among moderately priced housing, $100,000 to $300,000, has been good, Realtors remain concerned that higher-end homes, those priced from a half-million dollars and up, has been relatively flat so far this year.
"It has not been moving as rapidly as we would like," said Gentry, with RE/MAX Prime Properties. "We're busy. Our bigger homes are being shown."
She pointed out that only about 12 homes out of some 200 active listings priced at $500,000 and up have been sold this year.
Venjohn said some of that can be attributed to tighter lending standards for those kinds of loans.
He said improving loan limits would certainly help.
Interest rates are much higher for loans above $730,000 that cannot be purchased by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, which has sapped demand for expensive properties nationwide.
The national Realtors group is pushing for the Federal Reserve to start buying up those loans, even if they are not backed by Fannie and Freddie. It also wants the higher loan limits.
A few more sales of homes in that category would also balance out the slight decline the county has experienced overall in sales prices, Gentry said.
She said she hopes the housing market hit its bottom in February and that things will continue to improve.
"This is the first time in 30 years I have seen the stock market and the real estate market down at the same time," she said. "People are still buying. People just aren't getting what they did three or four years ago. But we are still in pretty good shape. These have been difficult times, but we just have to plow through it and hope for the best."
Venjohn said he continues to stress that "real estate, when purchased well, is still the greatest tool for creating and maintaining wealth."
Contact David Sinclair at 693-2462 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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