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No winter lull in sight for residential hot spots

It may be normal for residential real estate to have a lull during the dreary winter months as home buyers wait for spring to make that important purchase.

This winter, however, that’s not the case in some of the state’s key markets.

Residential sales didn’t slow down for the holidays in Southaven, Tupelo, Jackson and Hattiesburg and continue to stay hot this winter.

Lull? What lull?

“We don’t know what a lull is anymore. We haven’t seen a lull in three years,” says Southaven Realtor Chuck Roberts. “We’re having tremendous growth all over DeSoto County. “

The county continues to set records for residential building permits. In 2005, permits issued were up over the number for 2004 by 25.4%. There were 2,802 permits issued in 2005 compared to 2,235 in 2004. That’s a big change from the 1,403 permits issued ten years ago.

“There’s not a single area that’s not growing,” Roberts said. “It’s Hernando, Horn Lake, Olive Branch, Southaven, the unincorporated parts of the county and even Walls. I think the county will continue to grow.”

That thought is echoed by Cheryl Fair of Chase Fair Realty in Southaven. “Our office stayed busy all the way up to Christmas,” she said. “January was a great month and we’re rolling right along. Everything is growing by leaps and bounds. It has amazed me every year. I didn’t think it could grow any more.”

Fair says 1,800 to 2,500 square feet is the top seller in new construction and 1,500 to 2,500 square feet for old construction. Homes in the $124,000 price range up to $150,000 sell the quickest and Hernando is the county’s hot spot right now. “It’s been Hernando since last summer,” she said. “For a few years it was Olive Branch but now everyone is asking for Hernando.”

Weather at work?

In Tupelo, Esther Brown, broker/owner of Prudential Magnolia Realty, thinks the milder weather this winter has helped residential sales to some degree. “This was the best January our company has ever had,” she said. “Our listings and volume of money coming in to the company was up 40% this January over last January.”

Homes in all price ranges are selling with $120,000 the most predominant. Listings in the $75,000 to $100,000 price range are really hot when Realtors can get them. Programs available to help first time homeowners are also fueling the Tupelo market along with new residents moving into the area and the move-up market.

Prudential Magnolia has offices in Oxford and New Albany where the residential markets are also good. “Oxford has a unique market with Ole Miss alumni and people who retire and love it there,” Brown said. “It’s a different market from Tupelo. I’d say it’s a 50/50 ratio of condos and homes.”

She describes New Albany as a bedroom community to Tupelo, 30 miles away. “It’s growing and by being close to the Wellspring Project it has potential,” she said. “There’s quite a bit of new construction there.”

The Jackson metro area hasn’t had a winter lull this year either. Realtor Susan Burton says Rankin County on the Ross Barnett Reservoir side is currently showing the most growth with homes in the $160,000 to $250,000 price range the hottest ticket. “It was Rankin County’s turn,” she said. “Now they have shopping, restaurants and are doing really well.”

She adds that sales everywhere are solid up to about $200,000. “It’s a dog fight. Just list it and it will sell,” she said.

Burton predicts an excellent year, especially with lenders continuing to have good rates in the 5.8% range.

Boom continues

Ridgeland Realtor Judy Batson of ReMax Connection says the metro area’s activity is partly due to a high incidence of local residents moving from one area to another. “A good many are retirees. That’s what my last three have been,” she said. “Lake Caroline is really hot right now. The fishing and golf are big draws and skiing on the lake.”

In addition to Lake Caroline in Madison County, the area around Gluckstadt is booming, too. Batson sees a big range of prices with most from $200,000 to $250,000 and on up to $400,000.

Things are popping around Hattiesburg, according to Kris Williams with Kim Williams Real Estate. “It has not slowed down. It’s usually dead during the holidays but I showed houses on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day,” he said. “I’ve talked to several Realtors who did the same.”

He attributes much of the sales activity to Hurricane Katrina evacuees in the area. Immediately following the storm, any housing that could be found was rented. “Then we saw sales go up as people looked for something permanent. Many are not going back,” he said. “The biggest sellers are in the $75,000 to $140,000 price range. They sell as quickly as they come on the market, usually in 48 hours.”

Williams says 85% of his sales in the last four months have been to displaced families from New Orleans and the Mississippi Coast. But, even before the storm, the Hattiesburg market was strong with houses in the $75,000 to $250,000 price range listed on average 90 to 120 days. Now the average is 30 days. The Hattiesburg market includes Petal, Oak Grove, the Seminary-Collins area and the Purvis-Lumberton area.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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