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Denser housing, Mayberry feel push new developments

There are new dynamics in the Hattiesburg housing market. Many Hurricane Katrina evacuees from New Orleans and its suburbs were accustomed to dense, clustered housing. Several developments are now underway in the area with small lot sizes for homes that require minimal maintenance.

There are also traditional neighborhood developments planned in the Hattiesburg area that include a mix of retail, commercial, single-family and multi-family residential.
Young professionals and empty nesters in particular are interested in the low-maintenance home ownership model, says Buster Stuart, who is the developer for The Villages of Oak Grove.

“People relocating away from the coastal areas are accustomed to this type of environment with smaller parcels of land attached to the home,” Stuart said. “Research has shown that this model has been popular in other locations, and we believe it will be a popular option here in view of people’s changing lifestyles, as well as the storm. People are looking for ease of ownership. They want a freer lifestyle instead of being bound at home by weeding and lawn maintenance.”

The Villages at Oak Grove located near several Oak Grove schools is a patio home development of 59 lots, with each lot .2 acre. There will be minimum landscaping required by the homeowners, with the small front yards mowed twice monthly by the homeowners association. Back yards of the lots, 65 feet wide and 115 feet deep will be fenced, and the subdivision will have guttered streets, sidewalks and underground utilities. Exteriors will be brick or vinyl, requiring almost no external maintenance.

Stuart said people like having their yard mowed at the same time as everyone else in the neighborhood so the whole community looks good. You don’t have to worry about a neighbor who leaves town and doesn’t have the grass cut. While some people enjoy spending all weekend in the yard, others would rather play golf, fish or go to social events.

“I think all of us have more to do than we have time, not to mention downtime or recreational time,” Stuart said. “There are only so many hours in the day, and our approach to this allows people to enjoy their lives rather than be burdened by the maintenance obligations.”

Another attraction is that people will feel their investment is protected. For example, they don’t have to worry about a development coming in next door that might reduce the value of their home.

The project is being marketed by Realty Executives. Jim Stroo, broker-owner with Realty Executives and past president of the Hattiesburg Board of Realtors, said in addition to people who just prefer less maintenance, this type of home is also ideal for people who because of age or disabilities aren’t physically able to do the work.

Lots have been selling for $29,900.

“For Oak Grove, a lot at that price is almost unheard of,” Stroo said. “And the demand has been great. In phase one, we sold 20 of the 24 available lots in the first eight days. Builders are buying the lots. As far as reaching the final consumer, we haven’t crossed over that line yet.”

Sales of homes in Hattiesburg have soared since the hurricane left so many Gulf Coast residents homeless. Stroo did analysis of one subdivision in the area comparing sales six months before and after the hurricane. After the hurricane, prices increased 6% to 7%.

“We have seen a shortage of supply,” Stroo said. “Some homes in Hattiesburg were damaged, and then you had such an increase of people looking for rentals or purchases because of relocation. Demand was up and supply was down, so we have seen a boom in sales. Our problem has been getting enough product for people who need a home. The question is how many people dislocated will remain? We already see some going back home, but certainly not all. What is going to be our permanent increase in population from this? No one knows the answer to that.”

Larry T. Johnson Construction recently started construction on a similar high-density home subdivision. Construction began in March for The Village at Campbell, which will include 14 new Craftsman-style homes located in northwestern Hattiesburg one block off U.S. 49. The homes will be 1,250 to 1,450 square feet with a private park and green space.

A couple of years ago Hattiesburg created a new type of zoning, planned residential developments (PRDs), that allow smaller homes on smaller lots. Johnson Construction is the first developer to use the PRDs in Hattiesburg.

The Village at Campbell blends the old with the new. Historic areas of Hattiesburg have a lot of Craftsman-style homes that were built in the 1920s and 1930s. Johnson is also doing a similar development called Fisher Court, which is off 7th Street. Both the Campbell and Fisher Court projects are located near the University of Southern Mississippi, and Johnson believes the homes might be especially attractive to parents who want to purchase a home for their children to live in while they are attending college.

“You see a lot of parents purchasing homes or condominiums at Ole Miss and Mississippi State,” Johnson said. “They stay in the home for four years, and the parent sells the home after the child graduates. Some people would rather build equity for four years than pay rent.”

For many years most new residential construction in the Hattiesburg area has gone west into Lamar County and east in the Petal area. New residential construction in the older parts of Hattiesburg has been rare.

“These are the first new homes in that part of Hattiesburg in 30 to 40 years,” he said. “It has started turning the neighborhoods around.”

Johnson has another major development underway called The Legacy, located off Highway 11, which will be a traditional neighborhood with a large town square surrounded by mixed retail, commercial, professional, multi-family and single-family developments. There will be sidewalks, curbs and gutters, front porches and white picket fences.

“People have been asking if they can buy their lot in Mayberry,” Johnson said. “And that is exactly what we are trying to do. We are trying to recreate Mayberry. We want more of a community environment.”

There are 125 single-family homes planned in the development. A plat map for the planned community can be found at www.larrytjohnson.com.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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