Updated: Mon, 12/17/2012 - 12:07

Optimism grows for local housing market

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The new Realtor mantra is “no one ever dreams of renting.”

The Savannah Area Board of Realtors’ 2013 president anticipates local home sales to reflect that notion over the next year.

Closing in on what can only be described as a comeback year for residential real estate in Chatham, Bryan and Effingham counties, the mood was upbeat Friday at the annual Savannah Area Board of Realtors (SABOR) installation luncheon at Carey Hilliard’s banquet facility.

“We’ve seen an evening out” from housing downturn, said 2013 President Donna Davis. “With the pledge to keep interest rates where they are, we will build on the momentum next year.”

The Federal Reserve announced this week its intentions to hold down interest rates until the national unemployment rate drops to 6.5 percent. The rate stood at 7.7 percent through November, with the Fed projecting the rate will dip no lower than 7.4 percent in 2013.

Savannah-area home sales jumped 11 percent in the first 11 months of 2012 versus the same period in 2011 and 20 percent compared to 2010. Sales bottomed in 2010 after federal and state tax credit initiatives propped up the market in 2009.

The sales percentage increase could climb another point before the end of the year. December has been “freakishly busy,” as one Realtor described it, as many wannabe sellers rush to move their property in anticipation of changes to the federal capital gains tax.

More encouraging than sales to the Realtors is the shrinking inventory, or the number of homes listed for sale. Those numbers peaked in July 2009 with 5,536 homes listed in the three-county area. The inventory stood at nearly half that number — 3,272 homes — on Nov. 30.

The local inventory is expected to grow in the new year, several Realtors agreed following Friday’s meeting. Some areas of the local market, particularly those to the west such as Pooler, Richmond Hill and Effingham County, are nearing a shortage that homebuilders are already moving to address. Lot sales increased by more than 30 percent in West Chatham and Effingham County in 2012 versus 2011 while Bryan County saw an 88 percent jump.

“You’re going to see more sticks and bricks in the ground this winter and spring,” said Paul Gutting, SABOR’s 2012 president. “Things are not going to be great for the housing market in 2013, but they will be positive.”

Tight lending standards continue to temper expectations as has speculation about the size of the Savannah area’s “shadow inventory.” This includes repossessed homes not yet listed for sale, homes in the foreclosure process and homes owned by delinquent borrowers in danger of foreclosure.

Those types of homes, known as distressed properties, fueled the surge in home sales over the last 24 months. Distress sales accounted for 35 percent of the market during that span.

The number of distressed properties on the market dwindled throughout the fall and the winter. The pace is picking up, however, as prices have stabilized — a 1.2 percent increase over the last 12 months after a 20-plus percent drop during the recession — and Realtors who specialize in distressed properties are anticipating a strong supply come spring.

“The shadow inventory is no myth,” said Tim Adams of Adams Realty. “It’s all a matter of when and how quickly those properties are brought onto the market.”

 

SAVANNAH AREA BOARD OF REALTORS

2013 Officers

Donna Davis President

Jennifer Scroggs President-elect

Paul Gutting Immediate past president

Bonnie Gaster VP, Governmental Affairs

Linda King VP, Member Services

Trey Niver VP, Professional Development

Janet Howard VP, Community Relations

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