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Home sales down from last year
Positive signs also seen in market
While fewer homes are being sold in the area, the prices being paid for homes are up and the number of days they stay on the market are down. - photo by Stock photo

Liberty and Long County home sales currently are sluggish compared to a year ago, but local real-estate agents say home prices are on the rise.
“When you look at last year’s activity versus this year’s activity, what we saw in 2012 versus 2011 was a decrease in sales but a roughly $5,000 increase in price, and days on market stayed relatively the same,” said Coldwell Banker, Holtzman Realtors owner George Holtzman.
In 2012, there were 696 homes sold in Liberty and Long counties at an average sales price of $133,180 with 97 average days on the market, according to Hinesville Area Board of Realtors data.
In 2011, there were 766 homes sold at $128,000 average price and 96 average days on the market.
Although the numbers show a decrease in demand, Holtzman said the price increase is a good thing.
“If you bought a house today and you’re going to live in it three or four years, you would hope or you would anticipate that it would be worth more in five years than what it is today so that you won’t be upside-down when you get ready to sell,” he said. “Home values are rising.”
It’s sign of an upward trend in home values.
“It’s a delicate balance,” he said. “If we get out of balance, it could tilt back the other way.”
But sales figures don’t look as positive.
In January, there were 58 closings, only one fewer than in 2012. In February, there were 33 closings, 25 fewer than the 58 closings the previous year. March numbers also appear to be down, but Holtzman said the snapshot is incomplete because most closings are scheduled toward the end of the month.
As for pending sales, there were 12 fewer in January than the 96 in January 2012, but February had 14 more than the 80 under contract in 2011.
It’s a different picture from the one painted by the Savannah Area Board of Realtors, which reported last week that sales are booming in Chatham, Bryan and Effingham counties.

The sequester and real estate
Although he cannot definitely prove it, Holtzman said he thinks the sales lag could be tied to the sequester.
 “I think, overall, we started to feel it when Saxby Chambliss came down around the September/October time frame when he announced sequestration and if it went through, what the effects would be …,” Holtzman said. “The warning shot got out that we may not have a job or we’ll have less hours if sequestration goes into effect.
“I don’t have anything scientifically to prove it, but I think from that point people started adjusting what they might be doing or what their buying habits might be. We’re seeing these reduced sales as a result of people living more cautiously, and that’s what we’re also going to be experiencing these next few months into the fiscal year.”
When asked whether more homes have been listed on the market since news of the sequester hit, real-estate agent Brian Maike said the number of homes for sale seems to remain stable from this time last year.
“Our main clientele here is military, and they’re not subject to the sequester,” Maike said. “I know we do have an effect from it, but in my opinion, I think 9,000 people deployed has got as much of an effect on what we’re dealing with right now.”
Fort Stewart officials said last week the number of 3rd Infantry Division soldiers to be deployed is at its peak, and troops are slated to begin returning this summer.
According to the Team Stewart website, 8,230 Dogface soldiers currently are deployed.
“It’s anticipated that obviously when the soldiers start coming home, there will be an uptick just by their physical presence, … so I think we’ve had sort of a double whammy in that we’ve had the announcement of sequestration … coupled with approximately 9,000 soldiers being deployed,” Holtzman added.

The case for buying
In anticipation of the troop return, Holtzman and Maike pointed out that interest rates for VA and FHA loans are still low, which makes buying affordable.
They presented a sample closing cost worksheet from SWBC Mortgage Corporation for a $136,600 home at 3.25 percent interest on a 30-year mortgage. Their sample home is a 1,347 square-foot, three-bedroom, two bathroom newly constructed home in the Villages at Limerick, a Dryden Enterprises development.
The monthly payment with principal, interest, taxes, insurance and homeowners’ association fees is $836.44.
“The thing is with these builders, they pay your closing costs and your pre-paids, and you’re getting into these homes with, in some cases, a $1 move-in,” Maike said. He presented a data sheet for 2013 Fort Stewart basic allowances for housing that indicated even a private without dependents receives enough money — $969 per month — to afford such a home.
The same home would rent for about $1,100, Holtzman said.

Future changes
Even further down the road there are other opportunities for growth.
“We’ve got to look beyond this immediate sequester, and we know that the Army is going to be reducing their forces by some 80,000 soldiers during this next round of BRAC,” he said. “We’ve got to stand up and be counted and talk about the positives of Hinesville, Liberty County and Coastal Georgia versus other parts of the country where the military has the ability to be.”
The Southeast Georgia Friends of Fort Stewart and Hunter is lobbying for the return of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, the 3rd Infantry Division tenant unit currently housed at Fort Benning. Another possibility is that the 3rd ID could lose a brigade.
“If that were to happen, we might would even see somewhat of an increase in growth here,” Holtzman said. “My understanding is when a brigade is taken down, all of the supporting elements of those brigades will not go away … some of those support facilities or people within the existing third brigade would come and be integrated into these other brigades here.”

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