As the local and regional real estate market continues to steady itself following the economic recession, one glaring problem remains in Hall County: the need for affordable housing.
“We really are in desperate need,” said Tommy Howard, chief operating officer at The Norton Agency real estate firm in Gainesville.
Howard said he remains cautiously optimistic about the local real estate market heading into 2017, and the overall market has been strong this year with lots of homes trading hands during a robust summer sales season.
There were 788 homes on the market last month among all price points, for example, with 208 under contract and another 200 sold.
The average price point for sales was about $250,000. Inventory was low at just 3.9 months of supply. Anything below six months is considered a tight market for buyers.
Affordable homes, typically priced below $200,000, have helped drive demand and sales all year, Howard said.
For example, with 97 sold and 92 under contract, plus another 162 homes on the market in this price range in September, Howard said the demand is obvious.
But the inventory of homes in this market is exceptionally low at just 1.7 months.
This goes for renters, too, where new construction of multi-family dwellings has been slow to emerge.
Howard said private funding for new development is rare and bank loan financing was still hard to come by.
And the rental pool, particularly in the county’s most urban areas like Gainesville and Oakwood, remains outsized, as it may for a generation.
Young families moving into the working world do not fancy the prospect of home-buying the way their parents did, Howard said.
And so the desire to relocate on a whim and live in urban centers has in some ways reversed the trends of the 1990s and early 2000s that contributed to the housing collapse.
Howard said it’s not an exaggeration for The Norton Agency, which also manages rental properties, to have 99 percent of its rental units in Gainesville occupied at any given time.
The tight rental market (65 percent of all Gainesville households are renter-occupied, for example) presents a conundrum for commercial or industrial businesses.
The old saying that “retail follows rooftops” might need some amending.
Businesses look for both a stable customer base and labor force when looking to open in a community or region, but a shortage of affordable housing can makes patrons and workers hard to find.
Meanwhile, investors hurt during the recession have held out in the hopes of regaining their losses, which has made land prices and developing vacant properties tough for builders to manage.
“The economics ... are very difficult,” Howard said.