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Residential real estate sales still strong throughout the state

Traditionally, home ownership has been important to Mississippians with residential real estate sales steadily contributing to the economy. According to Scott Brunner, executive vice president of the Mississippi Association of Realtors (MAR), that fact hasn’t changed.

“From all we can tell, the recent uptakes in mortgage rates have not affected home sales,” he said. “We’re on track for making this the best year ever in Mississippi.”

Brunner, who’s been with MAR for 10 years, said that much to his dismay, the association that serves 5,300 members across the state does not collect data on home sales. Tracking is left to the 22 regional Realtor boards.

From member feedback, Brunner says the state’s hotspots for residential sales include DeSoto County, the Jackson metro area, Hattiesburg area, Pearl River County and the whole Gulf Coast.

He said MAR continues to work on increasing the number of first-time minority homebuyers. The association makes its members aware of programs to support giving these potential homebuyers the help they need to get into a home.

“We’re trying to do everything to make homes available for all Mississippians,” he said. “Home ownership is good for communities.”

In a word, Southaven Realtor Lynette Magee says the residential market in her city and DeSoto County is explosive. “We’re building and selling houses as fast as we can,” she said. “Business is great. We have a good economy right now to sell houses and we have a wonderful product in North Mississippi. Builders are way up in their production and that’s a top-dollar industry here.”

Affiliated with Crye-Leike Realtors, Magee is a past board president for MAR’s 900-member north district. She says location is the number one thing DeSoto County, which borders Memphis, has going for it. With people moving into the county on a daily basis, the area offers green space, low crime and tax rates and outstanding schools to newcomers from the city.

In the last census, the county’s population was 107,199 and Magee said Southaven has increased by around 5,000 residents since the census was taken.

“We have become the place of choice and I feel the best times are ahead,” she said. “There’s a growth plan that meets the needs of everyone here. Overall, everything is absolutely booming.”

The countywide school district, which includes the municipalities, is building 10 new schools as part of a $140 million project. “This building project will provide what we need now, not for future growth,” she said. “The schools had 2,000 new students last year.”

Building permits for 2,375 homes were issued in 2003, a record year. “Through June of this year, there were 1,226 permits, so if that stays on track, we’ll have another record year,” she said.

The average price of home sales in 2003 was $134,535. Magee says that average price is $142,898 this year, up 6% over last year. “We’ve been setting records every year that I’ve been in real estate here, and I feel like we’re leading the economic recovery,” she said.

In Tupelo, longtime Realtor Ellen Short says residential sales are headed toward another banner year. “It’s a very active market,” she said. “We’re fortunate that both residential and commercial real estate continue to grow.”

Short says the 11-county area has houses in all price ranges with an average sale price of $104,000. There are 100,000 people in Lee County, and Tupelo serves as a shopping and medical center for areas of Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee.

Mark Warren with ERA Real Estate Professionals in metro Jackson says business is good in his part of the state. His company has offices in locations where they see the most activity, including Northeast Jackson, Madison-Ridgeland, Brandon-Reservoir and Clinton-Byram-Florence.

“The market as a whole is up over this time last year with a 10% increase in the number of listings in the Multiple Listing Service,” he said. “Most companies have seen an increase.”

Warren says sales were closed for 5,763 properties from August 1, 2003, to August 1, 2004, in the three-county metro area — Hinds, Madison and Rankin. The average sale price for the area was $136,800, but he points out there’s a big range among the counties. In Hinds County, the average sale price was $104,506 compared to $136,155 in Rankin County and $212,564 in Madison County during that same time period.

Milton Grishman, who’s sold real estate in Biloxi for almost 30 years, has watched property values spike along the Coast. Average home sales prices vary from city to city and include $154,000 in Diamondhead; $136,000 in Ocean Springs; $145,000 in Southeast Gulfport; $115,000 in North Gulfport; and $115,000 in Long Beach.

“The big change was the advent of casino gaming. The first population wave drove that spike in values and now we’re having the second wave,” he said.

“Rapid growth creates a lot of challenges and I hope we can have balance and hold on to the best of our lifestyle and identity.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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