0419REALESTATEaudDr. Ben Hawkins talks about what he and his wife, Suzie, have experienced in their search for a bigger home.
How has the housing market affected you?
Here in the Life department, three different staffers have three very different issues.
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With a 16-month-old daughter at home and another child on the way, Dr. Ben Hawkins, a Gainesville dentist, and his wife, Suzie, realized they needed more space.
So, several months ago, they ventured into the housing market, where the withering economy has lowered home values, halted construction, spurred foreclosures and frozen credit.
"A couple of times, we thought we found what we wanted and just had problems with appraisals and that sort of thing, because we've been looking at doing some construction, adding on to the other homes we had found," said Ben Hawkins, who practices on Green Street.
He said his agent, Brad Abernathy of the Norton Agency, has been patient with them in their search.
"We've sort of been difficult clients, probably because we really want to stay in (Gainesville), but at the same time, we want to take advantage of the deals we feel like that are on the market," Hawkins said. "The places we want to be, there aren't a whole lot of (deals) out there.
"There's not a lot of inventory in the more popular neighborhoods here in town, and we found that while there are some great deals in new construction north of town and south of town, a lot of them are in neighborhoods that are sitting empty."
Area real estate agents and experts say that while stepping out into the market may seem like a daunting trip into the deep unknown, especially with a still uncertain economy, now is the time to make the leap.
Deals are hotter than they have ever been and interest rates are low.
And there's another incentive. In an effort to stimulate the economy and revive the housing market, Congress has enacted legislation providing a tax credit of up to $8,000 for people buying their first homes before Dec. 1.
Single taxpayers with incomes up to $75,000 and married couples with incomes up to $150,000 qualify for the full tax credit.
Credit also is flowing for home purchases but not as freely as before the recession.
Lenders "are being very particular about down payments and about credit scores," said Jan Baker, a Realtor with Braselton-based Prudential Georgia and past president of the Georgia Association of Realtors. "There are many people out there with good credit who can get a loan."
Abernathy, associate broker with Norton, agreed.
"The reality is if you've paid your bills, you have decent credit and have a little bit of a down payment, you can get a mortgage pretty easily," he said. "Rates are unbelievable."
Abernathy added, "You're going to buy more house now for cheaper than you could five years ago and that you'll be able to five years from now."
Megan Thoroman, a Gainesville-based Realtor with Coldwell Banker, said deals are plentiful.
"You're getting houses well below market value. ... When you're looking at a builders' homes or foreclosures, they are about 20 percent less than what you're seeing in the tax-assessed value.
"You can get into a home or town home for under $100,000. There used to be a time when ... the only thing you could get for $100,000 was nothing that would be livable."
Depressed values aren't so great for homeowners thinking about selling, especially those having bought just before the market dropped and having little equity.
But that could turn around.
"Banks don’t want to have real estate-owned property. If we get these houses sold, that will solve most of our other problems in the economy," Baker said.
"If you sell somebody a house, they pay taxes, they go buy things, they pay utilities. ... It will also get the appraisals back up for those who did not lose their home."
The bottom line is that the buyers’ market won’t last forever.
Already, "some of the foreclosures that my agents have been making offers on, there are multiple offers," Baker said. "And in many cases now, (the builder) is having to offer above what they’re asking."
Overall, Abernathy said he sees an uptick in the housing market and he credits that to something less tangible than dollars and cents — positive moods.
"I think the weather, things like that, the rain, and everything blooming is making people feel better," he said.
As for Hawkins family, they have narrowed their sights on a red-brick, four-bedroom ranch home on Glenwood Drive in Gainesville.
The couple has the house under contract and couldn’t be happier.
"It’s in a great location, a great neighborhood. It’s got a good-sized yard, and it’s a great place to raise a family," he said.