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Coast still feeling Katrina

The housing market, and just about everything else, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast changed August 29, 2005.

That was the day Hurricane Katrina came ashore and left behind what has been the largest and most expensive clean-up and rebuilding effort in U.S. history.

With the millions of yards of debris cleared, housing headaches linger.

“One of our biggest challenges post-Katrina has been (home) insurance,” said Ken Austin, president of the Gulf Coast Association of Realtors.

The insurance quandary combined with the overall slump in the national housing market has manifested in a drop in home sales.

“There’s no question we’re off from previous years,” said Austin, who put 2008’s year-to-date numbers roughly 30 percent lower than previous years.

There have been signs of a turnaround in the last couple months. Plummeting home prices, Austin believes, have bottomed out. Sellers are beginning to realize that they probably will not get their full asking price, and are bending on their bottom line to make their homes competitive.

“I believe that message has been received,” Austin said.

The political season has just concluded, which should settle the market now that buyers and sellers know, if only via campaign promises, what they have in the next U.S. President.

Helping things is the variety of choices people with good credit have when it comes to choosing a mortgage lender. Mortgage approval in hand, the number of homes available tilts the market in favor of those looking to buy. Good credit is a must, though.

“The market for people with bad credit has dried up. That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Austin said. “For buyers with solid income streams – I don’t mean rich people, but people with good jobs – there are affordable opportunities.”

So when is a reasonable time to expect a complete rebound?

“I left my crystal ball at home,” Austin said, laughing. “But I think 2009 will be a nice, solid recovery year. In 2010, we have a chance to be all the way back, I would hope. I think that’s a little bit more than just wishful thinking.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .

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