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Residential real estate markets mixed bag around the Delta

Jeff Brown and his family spent a warm Saturday afternoon recently tearing out cabinets in their new Greenwood home. The home is actually not new, but it is new to the Browns, who bought it to move into town.

In spite of having to remove 40-year-old cabinetry to make way for a complete kitchen makeover, Brown admits his purchase in the venerable, heavily treed neighborhood was a bargain in a Mississippi Delta city that is apparently a purchaser’s paradise.

“It’s absolutely a buyer’s market,” declares Brown. “We bought this because of the price. It was out of reach for us seven or eight years ago.”

The three-bedroom home located on a comfortably sized lot was listed at $137,000 and sat more than a year with no buyers. While Brown doesn’t divulge the final price, he concedes it was below $100,000, and he can recount numerous stories of greatly reduced purchases made by friends and acquaintances.

The territory manager for Jackson-based US Food Service says he, wife Sheri and daughters Hannah, seven, and Ragan, six, will keep the old farmhouse they own outside of town, probably renting it out.

“We will spend $35,000 to renovate this,” Brown says of the family’s new home. New carpet, new tile, new kitchen and new bathroom are some of the items on the renovation list that they hope to have completed by Christmas.

Betty Dubard, co-owner/broker of Greenwood’s Dubard Realty, shrugs off Brown’s bargain purchase. “Some housing on the market has not been updated in a long time, but houses in top shape are selling for top dollar.”

Dubard says the average selling price for a Greenwood home is $147,000, though that offers no evidence sellers’ asking prices are being met. While Dubard is a strong cheerleader for the local real estate market — “Leflore County is doing great” — she says the national tightening credit market is beginning to slow sales in the area as some buyers are meeting resistance from lenders.

“We don’t have real big ups and downs here,” says Joe Middleton, owner of Clarksdale’s Middleton Realty, “but we have been hurt by the ‘B’ paper.” He refers to the subprime mortgages that are spawning massive numbers of foreclosures across the nation.

Middleton says low-end real estate, the $30,000-$70,000 range, “is not moving.” Houses priced above that “are doing pretty good.” He says that downtown buildings, most destined to be converted to apartments, have sold well in recent years.

Dottie Collins, owner/broker of Collins Real Estate in Greenville, figures she has plenty of company in her situation. “We’re slow, but I think everybody’s slow.”

Like most Realtors and brokers, Collins usually markets property for a commission based on the sale price. That figure can vary but a generally accepted amount is 6% of the sale price. In the current buyer’s market, when owners tend to drop prices, there are plenty of houses for sale, but the commissions are not as high as when the market belongs to sellers.

“I guess it’s a catch-22,” says Collins. “When it was a seller’s market, we didn’t have many houses to sell.”

Collins figures something in between the extremes is the best. She says the number of foreclosures in her Greenville market area for the past two years is higher than in the past.

Lee Speakes says he’s looking at “a very stable market” in Cleveland, where he runs his Leland Speakes Real Estate Inc., named for his father, who founded the firm. The average length of time on the market for a Cleveland house is three to six months, he says.

Houses in the $80,000-$160,000 range, according to Speakes, constitute the best market segment. “It’s hard to find anything below that because they’re snapped up by rental investors, mainly for student housing.”

He credits Delta State University for being a consistent driving force in keeping Cleveland’s real estate viable.

Contact MBJ contributing writer C. Richard Cotton at rcotton4@earthlink.com .

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