It's a buyer's market for housing in SOWEGA

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- The hammers hitting nails and the saws cutting planks have been muffled, but not silenced, in Southwest Georgia.

The longest and deepest economic decline in 70 years in the country has been brutal for the housing industry in Dougherty and Lee counties. People lost their homes and others stopped shopping for homes.

"It might take us until the first quarter of 2012 to get out of this market," said Patsy Martin, Albany Board of Realtors president. "At the start of 2011, we have 22 months of inventory. We would have almost two years of houses to sell if we didn't list another house."

Martin said low demand and high supply make for a buyers market. She added that since 2006 there has been a 6 percent growth of value in homes, but a buyer and seller should take into account an at least 15 percent drop since the boom.

"It isn't really a gloom and doom scenario," Martin said. "We will see much of what we saw in 2010. It is a challenging time for a Realtor."

It is also challenging for the 125 active members of the Homebuilders Association of Southwest Georgia and other builders. Building permits tell the story for new homes.

In 2005 Albany and Dougherty County issued 156 single-family home construction permits. Lee County issued 435 for the same year.

Five years later the city and Dougherty County issued 48 permits for single-family construction. Lee County issued 88.

"We are hoping it gets better," said Jack Daniel Garrett, president of the Southwest Georgia Homebuilders association. "It will be a long, slow haul. We don't need another bubble."

The problems with sub-prime mortgages, derivatives and all the other causes of the recent economic drop should give banks a message, Garrett said.

"We need people to invest in the economy," Garrett said, "but credit-worthy people."

Garrett said that there are a few economic engines in the area that are providing jobs now and will in the future. With jobs there is always a need for worker housing.

Garrett named the Marine Corps Logistic Base-Albany and Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital among the major employers in the area. Phoebe is expanding.

Construction is under way for three medical buildings to accompany a 76-bed hospital at the Phoebe Sumter Medical Center in Americus. Completion is expected by the end of 2011. In anticipation, Garrett is building homes for employees staffing the facility at Americus.

The farms all around Southwest Georgia also seem to be providing for their owners and employees, Garrett said. Younger farmers seem to be making some money these days and hiring more people, he said.

People have also started renovating their homes, Garrett said. New kitchens, bathrooms and additions are providing work for builders.

Builders are also building high-end homes for the young professional families coming to the area hospitals and other businesses. Garrett and Martin both said that there has been a significant increase in home buying interest. They hope interest continues in the long-term.

The website Georigaconsumerbanking.com reports: "Our long-term view is that it will take many years for the market to adjust for the housing bubble. The market is still overpriced and there is still too much supply on the market, with reduced demand. You are not likely to see home prices appreciate substantially next year, as there is a large amount of excess inventory on the market along with high unemployment. This means you can expect continued depressed home prices in the year ahead."

Just as our local experts said, a buyer's market for the credit-worthy.

According to a real estate search website trulia.com, accessed Feb. 3, "The average listing price for Albany homes for sale on Trulia was $148,460 for the week ending Jan 26, which represents a decline of 3.1 percent, or $4,687, compared to the prior week and a decline of 3.2 percent, or $4,853, compared to the week ending Jan 5. Average price per square foot for Albany was $56," the same as the year before."

The information on the website about the Leesburg area: "The average listing price for Leesburg homes for sale on Trulia was $188,634 for the week ending Jan 26, which represents a decline of 1 percent, or $1,884, compared to the prior week and a decline of .9 percent, or $1,794, compared to the week ending Jan 5."