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Strong home sales continue in key markets around state

Although the once-booming housing market slumped in 28 states during the second quarter, Mississippi was not among those with declining home sales. Experienced Realtors in some of the state’s hottest areas say sales are still good.

With the lowest interest rates in decades beginning to climb, the outlook remains positive in Hattiesburg, Jackson, Oxford, Tupelo and DeSoto County. The Realtors the Mississippi Business Journal spoke with do not think the rate increase is affecting sales.

The state had a modest growth of 0.8% in sales of existing homes from April through June compared to the same period in 2005, according to a quarterly survey released by the National Association of Realtors.

“The Hattiesburg market might have slowed down just a little but not much,” says Brenda O’Neal Lambert, a ReMax Realtor, “but it’s been a very unusual year with houses selling in a short time on the market.”

Much of the boom in Hattiesburg for the past year is attributed to New Orleans and Gulf Coast residents relocating there following Hurricane Katrina. The area also remains a strong retirement market. There’s a lot of new construction with growth in all directions from the Hub City.

“We’re seeing strong sales in Petal, Sumrall and Oak Grove,” Lambert said. “Houses in the $100,000 to $250,000 price range sell the fastest, but the higher priced homes are selling, too. The area has a lot going for it.”

Judy Batson, a certified residential specialist in the Jackson metro area, says the market is still good and she

I don’t see a slow down in Madison County, Brandon and the Reservoir area,” she said. “The biggest sellers are homes in the $2thinks it will remain that way.

“The slight rise in interest rates is not hurting home sales. 60,000 to $320,000 range and there are many on the market in that range.”

While the larger, more expensive homes are still selling, Batson says there aren’t enough in lower price ranges, and sales are not as strong within the Jackson city limits as they are in the greater metro area.

Oxford is a unique market, according to Pat Smith, a Coldwell Banker Realtor there for 20 years. “There’s not really a going rate here. Our range is from $90 to $600 per square foot based on individual needs and amenities,” she said. “It’s been a little sluggish compared to the last two years, but sales are still consistent and there’s a pretty big demand.”
Smith said there’s a lot of building going on, including condominiums, and there are currently about 800 houses on the market. Property nearest the famous downtown square is the most coveted and most expensive.

“With the university here and the active retirement community, the demand stays up,” she said. “It’s a beautiful little town with a quality of life that’s very cultural. That quality of life is a part of what we’re selling.”

The larger house market is not as strong this year in Tupelo, but overall the residential market remains stable. “No property has sold this year in the over $500,000 range,” said Prudential Realtor Pat Pearce. “The increase in interest rates throws it out of range for some people, plus rising energy costs and jobs leaving the area.”

Pearce believes the large house market will rebound, saying homebuyers will adjust and still want these houses. The majority of homes selling are in the $100,000 to $180,000 price range with a lot in the $60,000 to $100,000 range selling in surrounding Lee County.

“We’ve been fortunate that the market is steady here,” she said. “We don’t have that fast appreciation where houses turn over quickly with a rising price each time. Northeast Mississippi is strong and stable.”

Just south of Memphis, residential sales in bustling Southaven and DeSoto County continue to march upward. Joan Ferguson with Century 21 River Oaks Realty says the increase in interest rates is not hurting the strong market.

“All of DeSoto County is good, but Olive Branch continues to be hot and Hernando has become real hot,” she said. “Hernando is a charming place. It’s the county seat and you feel a sense of community there. It’s 15 minutes from wonderful places to eat and a 20- to 30-minute commute to Memphis.”

Houses that sell the most in DeSoto County are in the $200,000 to $300,000 price range with about 700 houses currently on the market in that range. The average price keeps going up, but Ferguson says it’s now $100 to $112 per square foot depending on the amenities.

“We also have homes listed in the $500,000 to $700,000 range, but it’s unusual to find a neighborhood of $400,000 homes. Anything from $65,000 to $80,000 is almost impossible to find,” she said.

Ferguson said the area’s quality of life continues to drive home sales as more buyers choose to move from Memphis. Local schools are another bonus for home seekers. Six new schools opened for this school year in DeSoto County and another is scheduled to open in December.

“It’s the first year in a long time that we haven’t had schools using trailers for classrooms,” she said. “It’s a great home market.”

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


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