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Area housing market showing its strength
Despite doom-and-gloom predictions around the country, real estate agents say worst is over
The Rev. Tommy Shapard and his wife, Rachel, have been trying to sell their home on Dixon Drive for three years. The couple has since moved to Texas, but still wince when the mortgage payment is due. - photo by Tom Reed The Times

The president of the Hall County Board of Realtors believes the area may be emerging from the overall slowdown that resulted in a drop in home sales and construction of new single-family homes.

Susan Moss, a real estate agent who heads the 500-member organization, said there are some bright spots in the residential real estate market.

"Things are picking up," Moss said. "Agents are getting more calls and are getting more homes under contract. We seem to have seen the worst of it."

Moss said Hall County has fared much better than other areas of the country.

The strongest market in Hall County for home sales appears to be for homes priced at $250,000 or less and for homes valued at $1 million and more.

"People who are buying at $250,000 and under are not as worried about their job situation," Moss said. "People who are buy at over $1 million are often retired or have made their money."

Real estate agents said now more than ever it is a buyers' market, with significant negotiations on prices and terms.

Some developers with new homes to sell are offering incentives ranging from appliances to window treatments. There are builders who are offering to pay mortgage payments for periods up to six months, in some cases.

"Interest rates are at a historical low and there is a good variety out there," Moss said.

Patti Atwill, a real estate agent with the Norton Agency of Gainesville, said she has two sales pending and is getting a number of inquiries. "Things are still happening. People are still buying," Atwill said.

Like Moss, she agrees that the market for homes above $300,000 remains slow. "The $300,000 to $500,000 properties are sitting there," she said.

Atwill said there are multiple concerns that have driven away some potential buyers. "There is so much going on. Between the election, the war, mortgages and the gas prices, people are not sure what to do. But if a person is not encumbered with a house to sell, it's a great time to buy," she said.

New housing starts in Hall County have been down in recent months. In February, there were 96 permits issued for single-family homes. That compares with 126 in February 2007, but is up considerably from the 26 issued in January of this year.

However, there is an inventory of new homes already completed, and builder incentives are making it difficult for buyers seeking to resell an existing home.

The Rev. Tommy Shapard, pastor of music and worship at Second Baptist Church in Lubbock, Texas, owns a home on Dixon Drive in Gainesville that has been on the market for nearly three years.

"It's very frustrating," Shapard said. "It has worn on us to the point that we don't think about it except once a month when the payment is due."

Shapard and his wife, Rachel, have reduced the price to a point that is below what they owe on the home and will have to make up the difference when the house is sold.  He said they have had offers, which at first bring a sense of elation, but for various reasons did not come to fruition.

Shapard and his wife were on the staff of First Baptist Church on Green Street before accepting the call to service in Lubbock in June 2005.

Another market where bargain hunters are looking is homes being sold by mortgage companies after foreclosure.  Atwill said it is buyer-beware on foreclosures because most are sold as-is without any guarantees as to the integrity of the structure.

"I'm trying to sell homes of people who have worked hard to maintain and keep their houses and are trying sell them for whatever reason," Atwill said.

She also said there are mortgages available for first-time homeowners, but they must have at least a 3 percent down payment. "The 100 percent mortgage is gone," Atwill said.

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