After looking barely a month, Isaac Battle, who started a new job May 5 as a research analyst at Fort Gordon’s Cyber Center of Excellence, expects to close on the home near Grovetown this upcoming week. His wife and two daughters will move in July after school lets out.
The Battles are buying a five-bedroom, 4½-bathroom home in a new subdivision off Baker Place Road that’s close to schools for their children and Battle’s job on the base. Because the home was under construction, the family was able to personalize the 5,280-square-foot residence by adding an in-law suite, sunroom and media room.
“The wife really wanted something new,” Battle said. “This is our third home purchase and she really had some ideas on what she wanted to have. I had some things I look for in a house, so we decided the best way to get that was to get a new home.”
The purchase comes at what is traditionally the busiest season in the housing market, which local agents say still favors the buyer although it is moving toward an even footing for seller and buyer.
Battle’s real estate agent, Larry Ramsey, said builders are continuing to offer upgrades and other enticements to sweeten the pot for buyers.
“I still think the buyers have an advantage,” said Ramsey, a sales consultant with Century 21 Larry Miller Realty. “Not as much as several years ago, but they still have an advantage. The builders have recognized what buyers want. There are often more incentives now.”
At $322,000, the Battles’ new home is practically a steal when considering home prices where they live now, Battle said.
“You have a large disparity in the cost when it comes to purchasing a home down here in Augusta compared to that of the D.C. area,” he said. “That was one of the driving factors to help me in making the decision to come here to take a job here.”
The bulk of Ramsey’s clients are shopping for new homes near the Grovetown area, he said.
“That’s just a real good positive sign that we’re going to have a very busy summer,” Ramsey said. “I don’t see that slowing down any time here in the very near future. It’ll probably be close to when school is actually beginning before I see a significant slowdown.”
Local Realtors said that the Army’s addition of cyber and intelligence units at Fort Gordon, though in the early stages, will likely be reflected in housing growth and sales across metro Augusta this summer. By 2019, the Army projects that 5,620 military, civilian and contractor families will have moved to the area.
“It’s going to bring in tons of senior folks because they’re the unit that runs the entire cyber warfare effort Army-wide,” said Joe Loomer, a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty and also a retired Navy linguist. “Senior personnel have families. They buy homes.”
Loomer looked to housing data from the first quarter of 2014 to predict what the local market holds for summer months.
Figures from the Greater Augusta Association of Realtors showed that although overall sales from January through March remained flat at 1,335 versus 1,133 in 2013, the resale market rose, a nearly 16 percent increase over last year. There were 586 existing homes sold in the first quarter of this year, compared to 506 in 2013 and just 293 in 2010.
Loomer said he sees the trend continuing throughout the year, making 2014 the best year for resale properties since 2007.
Another positive indicator for the local market is that foreclosure sales were down 20 percent early this year, Loomer said.
“All of this is good news for the CSRA homeowner,” he said. “Fewer foreclosures mean less appraisal issues. Higher new construction costs mean more buyers for lower-priced homes or homes in desirable neighborhoods.”
Based on the average time homes across the area are staying on the market, buyers still have the upper hand. Currently, it takes 159 days for a home to sell. Loomer said that sellers gain the advantage when the time frame falls below two months. Homes staying on the market between two and four months represent stability, he said.
Columbia County, which outpaces Richmond and Aiken counties in home-value appreciation, new construction and existing-home sales, will continue to lead the housing sector this summer, Loomer said.
On a national scale, experts anticipate housing activity to gradually improve throughout 2014. Currently, inventory constraints and tight credit restrictions combined with rising home prices and mortgage interest rates continue to hamper the market, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Existing home sales are projected to decline by 3 percent to about 4.9 million in 2014, but median home prices could rise by 6 percent to $209,000. Housing starts should rise slightly to 1.1 million this year, though 1.7 million starts each year is needed to make up for the prolonged slowdown in construction, said the association’s chief economist, Lawrence Yun.
A small uptick in job growth and gross domestic product is expected throughout the year and should help the housing sector, according to the report.
Loomer sees a bright future for local home sales this summer and in coming years.
“Barring a major negative economic event, I see no reason why the next three years can’t be the best in the housing market that the Augusta area’s ever seen,” he said.