Television, print media and online news this past week has been all about various year-end recaps and reports, from who was involved in the worst political scandals to summaries of various crimes across the nation. All pretty depressing, I’m sure you’ll agree, with nary a positive uplifting thought to any of it!
Well, let me give you a year-end update that will put a smile on your face and hope in your wallet. I’m feeling pretty positive about 2015 and here’s why. Housing is making a comeback in the Dalton/Whitfield and Murray County area. Housing trends across Georgia and the rest of the United States are improving. That’s good news for our local housing market and our area’s flooring industry. Statistics show that every time a house is sold, thousands of additional dollars are invested in local economies when new owners improve their new home. Ultimately, the money spent by a homeowner in a far-off state finds its way to Dalton when the out-of-area retailer reorders product from our local industries. While we may never return to the level of the “roaring ‘80s and ‘90s” we are poised to make vast economic improvements.
Consider this: Inflation is low, consumer confidence is up, gas prices have plummeted and interest rates are likely to remain low for 2015, but could ease upward toward the 5 percent range (still quite reasonable). Our local unemployment rate has made small improvements, foreclosure inventories have fallen substantially and the availability of credit has eased somewhat with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae rolling out programs designed to help qualified borrowers get into owner-occupied housing.
Across the state, the Georgia Association of Realtors (GAR) reports that at the end of November 2014, median sales prices rose 13.9 percent over November 2013 prices with inventory levels down 8.5 percent over the same time period. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports medium sales prices rose 5.2 percent in the broader Southern region. For all of Whitfield and Murray counties, our median sales price rose 16.5 percent in 2014 vs. 2013.
For all residential properties in Whitfield/Murray counties up to $79,999, there were 37 percent fewer sold transactions in 2014 vs. 2013. Why? A dramatic reduction in the availability of low-priced foreclosures.
But on the other hand, 21 percent more homes sold in 2014 in the “move-up” price range from $140,000 to $249,999. This is often the category of second-time buyers or buyers who feel more comfortable upgrading their properties when their family or circumstances warrant a move. This is a reflection of a level of increased consumer confidence, too.
There’s always a corollary to good news, though. NAR reports that through the end of November, actual sale numbers were down, partly due to lower inventory levels. GAR reported 3.6 percent fewer statewide listings in November. We’re seeing much of the same here. Overall, our area saw 7.6 percent fewer properties change ownership in 2014 compared to 2013.
So who’s buying all these properties? NAR reports 31 percent were first-time buyers in the month of November and that for January to November 2014, 29 percent of all sales were to first time buyers.
Fannie and Freddie’s new programs should continue to help these borrowers, but even those borrowers have their challenges ahead of them. Many of those purchasers are likely part of the millennial generation and are beginning to hit 32 years of age — the historical age of first-time buyers. The millennials, however, have to worry about the shortage of inventory leading to higher prices and property values, and the increased debt load they carry from heavy student loans preventing them from qualifying for the best loan programs.
Despite these challenges, younger buyers are showing confidence in achieving the American dream. Second only in numbers to the baby boomers, the millennials are the next generation to buy many of our homes. They prudently search online for the best neighborhoods and schools. They look for convenient locations and short drives to restaurants, grocery and retail stores. They may consider your home, but they’ll pass it by unless it has the updates they’re looking for including high speed Internet-ready access.
Online searches have dramatically changed the way we shop for homes. Recently, GAR rolled out a wonderful consumer website with links to all areas across Georgia called “Enhancing Property Ownership-Georgia.” The site is a wealth of information. If you’re looking for a vacation home in the mountains, a seaside beach house, a new home in Dalton or a place closer to Atlanta, this site will assist you in the process from finding a Realtor, selling your home and finding you a new one. You can access the site at http://epoga.com. You’ll be glad you did!
Carolyn Roan is the 2014 past president of the Carpet Capital Association of Realtors and CCAR’s 2014 Realtor of the Year.