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Downsizing easier said than done in housing market
Flowery Branch resident among those looking for smaller house
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Amanda Swafford poses for a photo Saturday at Waterstone Crossing Condos in Flowery Branch. Swafford sold her unit because it had lost value since she purchased it in 2007, and she wanted to downsize. - photo by Erin O. Smith

The affordable housing crunch in Hall County is not unique to renters.

Homeowners like Amanda Swafford, a Flowery Branch resident and former City Council member, have found that downsizing, physically and financially, is difficult under current market constraints.

Seniors, the disabled and single-income households are struggling along with 34 percent of all Georgians, and some 1 in 4 homeowners in Hall, who spend more than 30 percent of their income on mortgages and utilities.

“It’s hard to find homes that are not going to cost a fortune to maintain,” Swafford said.

The motivation to downsize, however, is complicated by a shortage of affordable homes and smaller units in the area.

Swafford recently sold her town home after waiting years for the value to recover following the housing bust.

“We couldn’t leave if we wanted to,” she said of holding out so long.

Swafford is temporarily renting, which presents its own additional costs in the form of application fees and deposits, while she looks to purchase a new home.

“Nothing will get you more attuned to how much stuff you own” and its expense to store, like moving, she said.

But the lack of for-sale properties under $175,000, a price point some local realtors have identified as meeting affordability guidelines for many prospective buyers, has her considering other options.

Rising living expenses compound the situation.

The median income level in Georgia in 2013 was $47,829, according to census figures, which ranks 33rd among all states.

That’s down from $58,473 in 2000.

Land-use regulations, which can govern the minimum size of newly constructed homes to protect nearby property values, can sometimes inhibit residents like Swafford who are looking for cheaper, smaller alternatives.

“Unfortunately, most zoning boards and even citizens in adjoining neighborhoods still tend to look at every residential structure as requiring a white picket fence with an acre,” Swafford said.

For someone who has called Hall County home nearly all her years, Swafford said she has considered moving away.

She is expanding her search criteria, including looking at homes in places like Toccoa.

But even there her choices are limited, she said, with many older homes, requiring costly upkeep in their own right, the only units available in her price range.

Swafford said that without additional affordable housing, any gains made in the market since the economic recession could soon be lost.

“I don’t know that I’m feeling confident that the stability will remain,” she added.