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Hattiesburg agents: ‘phones ringing off the wall’

Hattiesburg — The sale of new homes in the Hub City was up 38% over the same period last year — and then Hurricane Katrina hit.

Now, with thousands of hurricane evacuees from the Gulf Coast and Louisiana stranded in the Hattiesburg area, the sales rush is continuing.

Real estate agents report that “phones are ringing off the wall.”

Many homeowners in Southeastern Louisiana and Gulf Coast areas lost everything to the hurricane. For some, starting over somewhere else is a realistic option and real estate agents say Hattiesburg is “a prime spot” for them to relocate.

“The real estate market in Hattiesburg was great during the peak summer period and this continued during the days before Hurricane Katrina,” said Dottie Ferris, president of the Hattiesburg Area Association of Realtors. “After Katrina, we’ve seen an increase in the number of homes that have been contracted. Many people today can work out of their homes and live anywhere, and they’re making the choice to live in Hattiesburg because it has so much to offer, including affordable housing.”

“It’s not booming like Baton Rouge but I think it probably will.”

She added that as the increasingly brisk pace of homes sales continues, it could mean increased prices and a new boom in construction.

“Lots of people who suffered 100% loss of their homes got the insurance money and are willing to pay cash for a new home and take possession immediately,” Sherry Underwood of David M. Cox Inc. said.

“Before Katrina, there was a brisk market for the sale of new homes, up substantially from the same period last year. And, absolutely, the brisk market has continued after Katrina.”

In pre-Katrina August, David Thompson of Fordham Thompson Development said that the housing market was strong due to attractive interest rates and to financial arrangements that often don’t require a down payment.

Thompson also cited the number of retirees that have settled in the Hattiesburg area.

The Realtors Association reported that 236 new homes were sold in the Hattiesburg area this year compared with 171 for the same January to August period last year.

Dottie Ferris said that new construction was selling “at or above list price. This area has a strong market in the sale of new homes.”

Nationwide, the sale of new homes set a record in July, the Commerce Department reported. Across the country, there was a 6.5% increase from June’s sales of 1.32 million units, which had been the previous record.

Median home prices in the Hattiesburg area rose 14.9% from January to June, according to the Realtors Association. That amounted to an increase from $104,000 to $119.500. For homes sold since January, the average square foot price was $85.74.

“It’s an easy drive from the Coast and you’re not going to get quite the damage you would get from a major storm,” Underwood said, in discussing evacuees who are relocating to the Hattiesburg area.

Real estate agents say that though the rush is on, the area won’t see the peak quite yet.

One real estate agent said that Hattiesburg was in the beginning stages of an onslaught of people looking for a houses, and that calls had been pouring in from people wanting to rent property.

Underwood said that Katrina caused less damage to the newer homes.

“They have newer roofs, architectural roofs, with shingles that are meant to last 30 to 40 years. And they’re just newer and in better condition to withstand a hurricane than the older homes.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer at George McNeill at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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