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Halls home prices stabilizing
Area lagging behind national trend of rising costs
Norton Agency real estate agent Pat Harrell, left, shows a deck on a home for sale to Richard and Donna Shaw on Tuesday afternoon in Royal Lakes. As home prices begin to rise in major cities, prices remain stable in Hall County.

While a national report shows that home prices across the country rose in May, Hall County may be lagging behind, according to Frank Norton Jr., president of The Norton Agency.

U.S. home prices rose in May on a month-to-month basis for the first time since July 2006, according to the national Case-Shiller home price index released Tuesday.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index of 20 major cities rose 0.5 percent from April, but was still 17.1 percent below May a year ago. Thirteen cities, including Atlanta, showed monthly increases in home prices.

Hall County’s home prices, on the other hand, have not risen with the markets in those major urban areas, according to Norton, whose company tracks home prices and sales in the county.

“We are lagging a little bit behind,” Norton said.

Norton does offer positive news, however, that the county’s recession-eroded home prices have not declined in a couple of months and are beginning to stabilize.

“I think we will see home prices stabilize through the rest of this year, except there will be isolated sales that will just blow everybody away because of the super-stressed nature of the owner,” Norton said. “But home prices look like they have leveled off or are leveling off.”

Other positive news Norton offers is that the county’s foreclosure listings were down in July compared to June. More than 300 foreclosure filings were listed in The Times in June; filings dropped to 215 in July, he said.

The recent statistics tell Jeffrey Humphreys, director of the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia, that some aspects of the housing market have hit their lowest. He said the housing market is stable, but at a very depressed level.

“I don’t think it’s really recovering,” Humphreys said. “I think it’s bouncing along the bottom, but we have reached a bottom in terms of housing sales and in terms of housing starts.”

Humphreys is hesitant to say that home prices have hit bottom. He does predict, however, that the major drops in home values are in the past.

“I think it may be premature, though, to assume that we’ve reached a bottom in terms of home prices,” Humphreys said. “(The Standard & Poors/ Case-Shiller) report kind of suggests that maybe we have, but I actually expect prices to drift lower through the end of the year.”

While stability is within reach, recovery may be further in the future. Humphreys said he believes Georgia’s home sales will recover with the rest of the country.

But due to the large supply of homes in Georgia, Humphreys said he believes new construction could take longer to bounce back in Georgia than the rest of the nation.

New construction on homes may not begin again until 2012, but in 2010 it could begin again in certain elementary school districts, Norton said.

Compared to last year, the Norton Agency’s home sales are up by about 15 percent, Norton said. About 50 percent of those sales are foreclosures, short sales or what Norton calls stressed sellers — sellers who have had their homes on the market for long periods of time and are willing to sell for less.

“There are some terrific buys in the marketplace and the higher the price house seems to be the more discount,” Norton said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.