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New homes, low rates drive higher summer home-sales season

Selling more houses

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Janet Williams is still unpacking and decorating.

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The Magnolia Station home is the first home the Williams family has owned away from military base housing. Augusta-area real estate agents sold 1,990 homes from May to August.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
The Magnolia Station home is the first home the Williams family has owned away from military base housing. Augusta-area real estate agents sold 1,990 homes from May to August.

The family is getting settled in their new home in Magnolia Station in Grovetown. They closed on it in July.

In May 2007, real estate agents sold 619 homes in a month. That feat has not been met since, thanks to the housing crisis and the Great Recession, but agents have been busier at the closing table this summer compared to years past.

From May to August, the heaviest home-buying period in a given year, Augusta-area real estate agents sold 1,990 homes, according to data from the Greater Augusta Association of Realtors. That’s 6.7 percent more than 2011 and 11 percent more than during the market collapse in 2008.

New construction, such as the Williams’ home, is one of the market drivers.

Even though interest rates have been historically low for a couple of years, they are also responsible for driving home sales, agents said.

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, the average interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate conventional mortgages last week was 3.63 percent, the lowest rate in the history of its survey.

For FHA mortgages, the average 30-year fixed rate was 3.44 percent, also a record-setting low.

“In 2001, the rates were 6 percent, which I thought were good. But they are half that now,” said Annett Jackson-Brown, a Realtor with Century 21 Larry Miller Realty in its Richmond County office.

Betty Renard, a broker at Weichert, Realtors - Cornerstone, said the inventory of homes for sale has been declining, a good barometer of the market.

With the number of homes available in Columbia County, it would take six months to sell it all. That rate is about nine months in Richmond County, she said.

“In Columbia County, it is barely on the side of a buyer’s market. It is very balanced, which is way better than the last couple of years,” Renard said.

Jackson-Brown has also seen a balance, this one among the resale homes on the market versus the glut of foreclosure homes.

This summer, Jackson-Brown saw a lot of first-time homebuyers and military personnel moving off-base and into homes to prepare for retirement.

“I feel more comfortable this year than I was last year. I feel like we are coming out of the rut,” Jackson-Brown said.

Teresa Tiller, associate broker with Re/Max Partners, said new construction boosted sales, some of them selling in 30 to 45 days.

According to the Realtors association, the average days on market, calculated in August, was 172 days.

“Our resales aren’t doing as well. The construction is selling better,” Tiller said.

Tiller also pointed to the impact of low interest rates. Specifically, she’s seen first-time homebuyers who reached the conclusion that a house payment is competitive with a rent payment.

“I’ve had a few buyers look at retirement in the next three to five years and are going ahead to get settled for that. Again, it is interest rates,” Tiller said.

Area agents sold more than 500 homes in both May and July and more than 480 homes in June and August.

HOME SALES

For May through August, reported through the Greater Augusta Association of Realtors:
2012:
1,990
2011:
1,855
2010:
1,823 
2009
: 1,715
2008
:
1,771
2007:
2,277


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