“There is no question that things are moving back in a positive direction,” said Marty Milstead, executive vice president, Home Builders Association of Mississippi. “Things are not moving at a sprinter’s pace. But it is positive to have the needle moving in the right direction. That means the economy is growing back. It means more people can afford homes. Interest rates are still at record lows, and housing is still very affordable.”
The first-time homebuyer market is where the most activity is occurring. Milstead said that is particularly true on the spec market because few builders have an appetite to put really high-end spec homes out there.
“Builders are very cautious about their inventory,” Milstead said. “The first-time homebuyer and move up market is where you are seeing the most activity.”
Dorothy Thompson, president, Jackson Association of Realtors, said according to their 2012 Annual Report, pending sales are up 3.5 percent over this time in 2012 and closed sales are up three percent.
“Our median sales price for all seven counties is $144,000, up 5.9 percent over this time last year,” Thompson said. “Another good indicator of recovery is the fact that our average days on the market of 105 days is down more than 6.3 percent from this time last year. In our three primary counties served (Hinds, Rankin and Madison counties), the number of closed sales for all three was up four percent over last year.”
Madison County closed sales were up 10 percent over this past year and Rankin County was up 6.1 percent. The Madison County median price rose 3.6 percent to $209,000, and the Rankin median rose 2.7 percent to $151,000. The Hinds County median price increased the most. Compared to 2011, it was up 18.8 percent to $87,750.
“We attribute the upswing to buyers having confidence that the market is stabilizing, and to lenders who are loaning money to qualified buyers,” Thompson said.
In the Hattiesburg area, 1,310 homes were sold in 2012 compared to 1,167 in 2011, an increase of about 12 percent, said Hattiesburg Association of Realtors Board president Betty Jo Ison, who is co-owner of McMahan Realty.
“Average sales prices went down from $152,000 to $143,000,” Ison said. “A few foreclosures or short sales made those average values go down. But the days on the market went down, so right now we have an eight-month inventory of houses. That is good because it was previously up to more than a year. That tells you we are selling more houses than we are listing, which is a good thing. The bulk of our sales are in the $150,000 to $200,000 range.”
Home building continues to be sluggish compared to the peak of the housing boom. With new construction costs so high, that makes existing homes a good value.
“You can get more for your money with an existing home,” Ison said. “There are still a few builders who are building new homes, but not like it was. Last year we only had 116 new construction homes sold out of 1,310 houses on MLS. That is less than 10 percent.”
Low interest rates are “absolutely” a big draw. Ison said most people are getting loans in the range of three percent.
“Everyone knows interest rates are only going to be low so long, and everyone is trying to take advantage of it while they can,” she said. “If you can qualify and get a loan, now is the time. You get more for your money at a great interest rate.”
January is often a slow month for real estate sales, but right now there are 160 home sales pending. “That is real good news,” Ison said.
Patti Courtney, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Alphonso who is president of the board of the Biloxi Ocean Springs Association of Realtors, said prices are rising slowly and there is less inventory.
“We have sold more and have fewer new listings coming onto the market,” Courtney said. “Things are slowly improving. There are fewer foreclosures and that makes a big difference. We did have a lot of people who bought when houses were priced high and it ended up that they couldn’t sell them. Sometimes people don’t have a choice about foreclosure, like people in the military who are moving.”
Kris Davis, broker/owner, RE/MAX Partners, Columbus, and president of the board for the Golden Triangle Association of Realtors, said within the Golden Triangle, Lowndes (Columbus) and Oktibbeha (Starkville) counties represented the bulk of 2012 home sales, each having an equal share of the number of homes sold. Each experienced sales volume growth from 2011 with Lowndes County increasing 11 percent and Oktibbeha County increasing 14 percent.
“Overall, 2012 residential sales prices were up six percent over 2011 sales prices across the Golden Triangle,” Davis said. “Lowndes County was up nine percent and Oktibbeha County was up three percent. Clay County (West Point), which represents a modest share of Golden Triangle residential sales, experienced the largest increase in sales prices year-over-year, increasing 13 percent from 2011.”
Davis said the Golden Triangle avoided the dramatically inflated homes prices that many other areas of the country experienced before the housing bust. This has allowed the area to maintain stable and steady growth.
“With Mississippi State University, Mississippi University for Women, Columbus Air Force Base, Severstal, PACCAR and numerous other large employers in and coming to our area, there has been a steady influx of new residents, as well as those ‘moving up’ within our area,” she said. “Starkville has also benefited from the second-home market with loyal fans and alumni seeking game-day properties to take advantage of MSU sports activities and the campus experience.
Jeanette Spearman, associate executive, Northeast Mississippi Association of Realtors, said people are optimistic about home sales in Tupelo this year. I have had brokers in Tupelo tell me that January of this year was a record breaking month,” Spearman said. “It was their best January in 25 to 30 years of business.”
In 2012, there were 1,364 home sales in Northeast Mississippi. The median sold price was $100,000, and the average was $139,419. In 2011, 1,334 homes sold with a median price of $103,000 and average price $115,830.
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