Houston & Peach

Houston could face shortage of new homes

WARNER ROBINS — The Houston County market has more than weathered the real estate storm but still faces some challenges, speakers told a gathering of brokers and agents Friday. One of those challenges is a looming shortage of new homes — long a driving force in real estate sales in the area.

“We have got probably a three- to four-month supply of new construction,” Elaine Lee of Fickling Co. said at Friday’s Residential Real Estate Outlook Program.

In Houston County, housing permits have declined steadily for the past three years.

In 2006, there were 1,657 permits issued, compared to 639 last year, Lee said. New homes accounted for 486 sales in 2009 and 582 sales in 2008.

“The good news is we’ve got lots of lots that are there that are buildable and ready to go. There are a lot of areas that don’t have the developments we have.”

Warren Faircloth of Faircloth Realty spoke up to encourage banks to free up money for speculative loans for new home construction.

“Bankers need to quit worrying so much about doing some spec loans because we’re getting a shortage of houses.”

New homes on the market in Houston and Peach counties have declined by more than 65 percent since 2006, Faircloth said. In April 2006, there were 634 new homes on market; there were 219 new homes listed last month, he said.

Houston County has a list-to-sell ratio of about 97 percent, meaning homes sell for about 3 percent less than the amount they’re listed.

Home sales, Lee said, began to decline about August 2007, she said.

Houston County averaged about 138 sales each month last year, with a fourth quarter showing of 436 homes sold. Sales for 2009 were down 10 percent, compared to a 40 percent decline in 2008.

About 47 percent of homebuyers in 2009 were first-time buyers, Lee said.

“We feel one good reason is the tax credit. Another is the low interest rates we’re now seeing.”

The average sales price has also declined. Homes in the $100,000 to $150,000 range accounted for 34 percent of homes sold last year.

“Two years ago,” said Lee, “we were closer to the $200,000 price range.”

Tighter lending practices and government regulations are not only making loans harder to come by, but they’re also leading to longer closing times as many banks are requiring two appraisals.

Those appraisals are often done by out-of-town appraisers sent in by appraisal management companies mandated by mortgage companies and the government, said speaker Tino Sheridan of Envoy Mortgage.

“We don’t want people who have no knowledge of the community making bad appraisals,” he said.

Sheridan predicted a “recovery in different pockets” this year, while Lee said she is confident the Warner Robins market will “bounce back.”

To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.