Augusta's luxury real estate market tough, not impossible

Real estate agents have a mixed view on whether big homes are ready for a big comeback.

The luxury market definitely experienced a decline, said Keller Williams broker Mark Jacobs, but it has begun to pick up. His firm has already sold more homes so far this year than all of last year combined.

While it will take years to get back to pre-recession sales numbers, he said, complaining won’t make any progress.

“The market lately has been much better than last year,” Jacobs said. “It’s really all in your attitude: do you want an agent selling your house who can’t stop talking about how bad the market is?”

According to sales statistics provided by Meybohm, there were 21 high-end homes sold in the first quarter of the year, with a median sales prices of $584,672. The median list price was $595,000.

There were 38 luxury homes sold in 2011, according to the data, selling for a median price of $590,000 from a list price of $605,500.

The time that a house is on the market is an average of 308 days right now. In 2011, the average number of days a house was on the market was 230, higher than 224 days in 2010 and 211 days in 2009.

The majority of Jacobs’ luxury buyers are new to the area, moving for a job, retiring near family or coming to the area for attractions like golf or equestrian sports.

Buyers moving to the Augusta area put a premium on convenience and comfort, Jacobs said, making historic homes in the Summerville area not as attractive.

Sand Hills Real Estate broker Ross Snellings has nearly 20 years of experience working in Augusta real estate, and he said demand for the Hill area homes has declined over the past several years.

“Everything has changed,” he said. “There used to be people waiting on the sidelines to buy these homes.”

As early as 2005, Snellings saw home values begin to plummet and now he estimates most are selling for nearly half of what they would have sold for years ago.

Richmond County’s high-end real estate market has begun to pick up some speed, he said, but it is still not close to where it should be.

“It might just be an awfully long time before things level out,” he said. “I think people are beginning to make their peace with the new normal.”

David Burton, an associate broker at Sand Hills, is trying to sell his own home on Walton Way and said he never imagined how difficult it would be. He and his wife always planned to sell the house after their children moved out.

Though the six-bedroom home has historic charm and was completely renovated 11 years ago, it has stayed on the market for more than three years. The current asking price is $849,000.

“We always knew we would sell it, but unfortunately the market got away from us,” he said.

Buyers’ perceptions of what it takes to own a historic home has been a key factor in freezing interest in the Hill area, he said.

“There’s a perception that old homes are money pits,” he said. “They’re great fun, and so charming to live in.”

Burton said the market has changed over such a short time.

“There was a time not too long ago when there were no big old houses on the market,” he said. “As soon as one would go up for sale, it would get snapped up.”

Anne Marie McManus, the vice president and an agent with Meybohm Realtors in Augusta, said she believes not investing in the real estate market right now can be just as financially detrimental as overbuying.

With low interest rates and low price points, Augusta’s high-end market provides great chances for buyers to get more bang for their buck than in other cities.

“To not buy is just as foolish as buying over your head,” she said. “People are wanting value right now, and I see them getting it.”

McManus said she used to define the high-end or luxury market as homes selling for $1 million or more, but now those values have dropped to around $750,000.

Augusta’s economy is also traditionally more stable than other luxury markets such as Miami, which relies heavily on tourism, so home values have not been as drastically impacted with the economic decline.

“You need to be smart when you’re selling and smart when you’re buying,” she said. “Begin at the beginning, make good decisions, buy for the right reasons, have a good overall financial plan, and you can really live luxury in Augusta.”

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