The sluggish housing market has picked up in Liberty and Long Counties, following an economic downturn and the return of many Fort Stewart soldiers from deployment overseas, local realtors say. The transient military community has always fueled the local housing market, they said. Whether a soldier plans to buy a home and retire here, or simply wants to rent a home until the next set of orders arrives, there are options available to suit most budgets.
“I would say the housing market here is improving while average time (a house sits) on market has not really changed, 120 days in 2012 as compared to 123 days so far this year,” said Jimmy Shanken, a real estate broker with Coldwell Banker, Holtzman Realtors. “The interesting fact is that home values have increased 9 percent over last year. In 2012, the average sold price was $122,225; in 2013, the average was $133,771.”
“Everything that happens with the Army affects us in this area,” said Elaine Boggs, broker and owner of Elaine Boggs Realty Group.
Boggs said earlier this month that home sales had increased over the past several weeks but were down somewhat from last year’s numbers at this time of year.
“The home buying market is like a roller coaster ride,” she said. “Everything is on a cycle. Last year’s market was supposedly not good.”
She said though home sales seem to be on the rise she doesn’t expect a sudden boom.
“I don’t know if we’ll see anything like we used to in the ’90s,” Boggs said.
She said sales prices for repossessed homes have decreased.
“That market is doing very well,” she said. Buying a repossessed home at a bargain price is one option for those military families that previously would not have considered purchasing a home, Boggs said.
If a soldier is not going to be stationed in the area for at least two or three years, they will likely have difficulty turning over and reselling a home, and might want to rent, she advised.
“They have to be here at least two to three years, in my opinion, to buy,” Boggs said.
Shanken said rental rates are spread “across the market.”
A two-bedroom condominium in Wood Wind South rents for $700-750 a month, compared to a condominium in Maybank Plantation that might go for $1,050 a month, Shanken said. Three-bedroom single-family homes in Eagles Landing rent on average $900-950, but some rent for just over $1,000, he said.
“The median (home) sales price in Liberty and Long counties is $139,950,” he said.
Shanken said the standard two-year assignment here is not always the case.
“It has always been a trend here in our market that some service members do believe they are not going to be here long enough to buy a home, and their usual answer is ‘I am only going to be here two years,’” he said. “I said that as well, and I have been here 19 years.”
Boggs said soldiers who know they will be in the area longer than two or three years might want to first determine if they qualify for a loan, if they would like to own a home.
“Either homeowner or buyer tends to pay closing costs in this area,” she said. “That’s why these houses are able to sell. That keeps things moving.”
Closing costs vary, Boggs said, ranging typically from 3-3.5 percent of the sales price.
Shanken said a significant number of homes in Liberty and Long counties are owned by service members and veterans. These homeowners might prefer to rent out their homes if they run into difficulty trying to sell them.
“If they have not sold them then they must cover their mortgage note, management fee and set aside some for repairs,” Shanken said. “For example, if you had bought a home in Parish Crossing in 2009 when rates were about 5 percent and spent $149,900, and gotten a VA loan your payment would have been around $1,100 per month. Fast forward to a PCS in December 2013…you have had your house on the market most of this last deployment and the pressure of having two house payments is mounting so you decide to rent your home out. You must cover your payment of around $1,100, a management fee of around 10 percent ($110), and you should put some money away for repairs and to make your mortgage payment if the home does not rent quickly. So, you list the home for $1,350. Now on the other hand, investors in the market place do watch for this and of course they are going to bring their rates in line to other comparable houses; it’s the law of supply and demand.”
Boggs said the rental market in Liberty County is “still pretty spry.”
“The rental market is very swift, mostly because soldiers are coming back,” she said. “Rents may seem high, but they are set to help cover mortgage costs for owners.”
Boggs said soldiers’ basic housing allowance covers most rentals.
“It’s all relative. If they’re coming here from D.C., their (rents) are going to be cheap. If they’re coming from the Midwest, they may seem high,” she said.
Boggs said there are “a good deal” of rental properties available. However, rentals ranging from $500-700 a month “are practically non-existent.” She said there is a need for more rentals less than $1,000 to serve the lower income soldier.
Boggs said some military families connected to Fort Stewart are buying homes in neighboring Long County, in part to escape what they perceive as rising taxes.
“Long County is building because that’s the place that has room to grow,” she said, referring to a number of new subdivisions being built across the county line.
Boggs said some residents are flocking to Long County because taxes are lower there compared to city taxes in Hinesville. She said homebuyers also may find larger lots in the county than they could find inside city limits.
“Soldiers don’t mind going 20-25 minutes (to commute) out,” Boggs said.