Even better is to hear Jason Free, the current president of the Greater Rome Board of Realtors, offer the sort of realistic overview of the housing market that was sorely missing in the years immediately before the home/building bubble burst with a pop heard in far too many local households in mid-2008.
Speaking to the Rome Exchange Club in the wake of some year-end figures that actually may be even more positive than the smiley-face appearance they offered, Free even managed to inject humor based on realism into his analysis, as when saying that to get a mortgage nowadays “You have to go into the lending institution and prove you don’t need the money.”
He’s not entirely kidding, at least when compared to 2007 and before when the ability to breath seemed to be an applicant’s most-important qualification. Nowadays a hefty down payment in cash with a credit rating once considered golden has become the minimum acceptable, plus your job/income better look really solid. The lending rules have likely gotten too tight, as Free indicated, but that’s the way pendulums swing: From one extreme to the other before going back to the middle.
GIVEN THE FIRMER financial footing now demanded, it may well be the Greater Rome sales figures for all of 2012 are even better than just strongly up once again. Which they were with a gain of 17.9 percent: 813 single-family homes sold with an average sales price of $111,691, which is up 5 percent from $106,334 the year before when 689 homes were sold. In 2007, when what has since been found to be hot air floated sales artificially higher, there were 990 homes sold in Greater Rome.
Remove all the buyers from that era who probably shouldn’t have gotten mortgages to start with (and would not be considered today) and a realistic view of today’s market may well be that the solid portion is just about where it was then. Indeed, throughout this period there’s probably not a Greater Rome Realtor who would have wanted to exchange places with one in the Atlanta metro — and still wouldn’t today.
For the overall good of the local economy, restored vitality in this sector is essential. Not only are there hundreds of sales agents — most depending on sales volume and price to make a decent living as they depend largely on commission — but there are even more hundreds of carpenters, electricians, plumbers, etc. who sure would like a lot more work than they have now from the home-building side. The commercial side, hardly in boom mode either, has seemed a lot more solid judging just from what can be seen (Lowe’s, Hight/Publix center and so forth).
WHILE FREE didn’t mention that there is a lot of obesity still in the listings, much of it coming from foreclosures, that remains to be slimmed down he was correct in pointing out that “Construction of new homes is going to be our biggest sign of recovery. When we start seeing spec houses, that will be the final exclamation point in a full recovery.”
Note that Free did not say “spec subdivisions” as was the norm and fad in recent times. He said “houses.”
That reflects a national trend he also pointed to: The rising generation, dubbed “millennials,” is staying in school longer, marrying later, struggling to find jobs and often instead of being in the market for homes of their own moving back in with mom and dad — who may or may not have paid off their own mortgages.
Additionally, national surveys show a lowered affection for “house with white picket fence” as a primary lifestyle goal, doubtless a reflection of the long and lingering belt-tightening phase most Americans have been passing through. There is a new awareness of caution, if not downright frugality, regarding most purchasing decisions on everything from food to clothes to cars that certainly rubs off on what is the largest single purchase/debt most Americans ever undertake: a home of their own. That mood may or may not persist but is certainly present now.
WHAT THE LOCAL real estate and construction markets need most of all now is growth — more people coming here for more jobs. Such would sop up the existing excess supply rapidly plus create demand for new apartment complexes, homes … perhaps even subdivisions.
It’s actually rather remarkable that the local real-estate market has not sunk as fast and deep as in many neighboring communities during this downturn period. Greater Rome population has been stagnant, with little growth but no real exodus considering what has been a loss of jobs that actually in percentage exceeded the state rate.
A lot of that has to do with Greater Rome being both diversified economically and a rather pleasant place to live with a high percentage of residents having family roots here. It also has a generally low cost of living (if you don’t count the ridiculous gasoline prices) with housing/rent being a real bargain compared to what’s not very far distant toward the east and south. In a time when new jobs are not only hard to find but fewer companies pay relocation expenses, staying put even when wages remain stagnant can often make sense.
This community also has exceptional amenities for residents, not only in lifestyle and outdoor activities but particularly in ready access to health care and higher education.
Those are also sales pitches, of course, and while real estate/construction would benefit greatly from growth — and that strengthened revival would make retailers in particular smile as well — it is something that must really be emphasized even more than at present by community leaders and economic recruiters.
THIS COMMUNITY is not 100 or even 1,000 more home sales a year away from a restoration of real estate to former levels of economic glory — it is 100 or 1,000 new jobs arriving each year of the sort that create the ability to purchase homes away from an enduring prosperity.
It is population growth generated by economic/employment growth upon which Greater Rome must turn all its sales-pitch firepower if real estate/construction are to again flourish as one player on a winning team. All other players in the batting order — retailing, services, tax revenues to support government/school and so forth — benefit from there being no weak hitters in the lineup.
Zero down payment with adjustable interest rates and balloon payments don’t get the job done; they only get us another day older and deeper in debt — like Washington. The past few years have taught not only Realtors but also all of us that, haven’t they?