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VOL. 36 | NO. 33 | Friday, August 17, 2012

‘More secure’ buyers launch housing boom

Williamson leads Midstate’s strong July sales, followed by Davidson, Rutherford

By Bill Lewis

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Consumers are feeling confident, mortgage interest rates are lower than they’ve ever been and landlords are steadily raising monthly rent payments. For growing numbers of people in the Nashville region, this is the moment they’ve been waiting for to buy a house.

Homes sales increased by double-digits throughout the Nashville region in July, compared to the same month last year. In a few neighborhoods, sales were up 100 percent or more.

“There’s a pent-up demand. Folks are saying ‘now’s the time,’” says Steve Smith, executive vice president of Mortgage Investors Group in Brentwood.

There were 2,574 home closings in the Nashville region in July, according to the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors (GNAR). That was a 27.4 percent increase over the 2,021 closings reported for July 2011.

The market was twice that strong in Williamson County, where sales were up 56 percent. A total of 559 homes changed hands, compared with 358 in July 2011. The average price was almost unchanged, however, $361,935 for July 2012 and $361,637 for July 2011, Chandler Reports market analysis reveals.

Sales were up 100 percent in the fast-growing Nashville suburb of Nolensville, where 44 homes were purchased. The average price was up 5.4 percent to $331,658. In the 37067 zip code of Franklin, there were 67 sales, a 97 percent increase, with the average price down about 4 percent to $379,109.

In Franklin’s 37064 zip code, there were 143 sales, a 43 percent increase. The average price was up about 14 percent to $367,557. In the 37069 zip code, sales were up almost 63 percent but the price declined. Last month 70 homes changed hands. The average price of $387,686 was more than 6 percent lower than last year.

In rural Fairview, sales were up more than 66 percent. Last month 20 homes were purchased. The average price, $159,426, was almost 5 percent higher than in July 2011.

Home buyers are feeling more financially secure, says Andrew Terrell, a Realtor with Pilkerton Realtors in Brentwood.

“It’s confidence that they going to be at their job or they’ll get another job, which wasn’t the case two years ago,” he says. “Plus the incredible increase in rents.”

The same three-bedroom, two-bath house that rents for $2,500 a month can be purchased for a monthly house payment of $2,000, he says, due to a combination of factors. Mortgage interest rates around 3.5 percent are making homes affordable, while landlords are raising rents because of high demand from people who either don’t want to buy a home or can’t.

Someone who went through a foreclosure, for example, would probably be unable to get a mortgage loan. Other buyers who could have qualified before the downturn can’t do so now because of their credit scores and have to rent.

Before the recession, a home buyer with a credit score of 580 could qualify for a mortgage, says Richard Courtney, a Realtor with French Christianson Patterson & Associates. Today, the average score of someone who’s turned down is 696.

In light of that obstacle, July’s strong housing market performance “is even more stupendous,” he says.

“It’s the real thing,” Courtney says. “Real, live buyers are buying property for what it’s really worth.”

That effect is being felt throughout the Nashville region.

In fast growing Rutherford County, 458 homes were purchased last month, a 22 percent increase over July 2011. The average price was up more than 7 percent to $170,566.

Some of the county’s best bargains were in LaVergne, where the average price for a typical 1,572-square-foot home was just $114,142. There were 49 sales last month, nearly 29 percent more than in July 2011. The average price was up almost 8 percent, but it was still well below prices in Smyrna and Murfreesboro.

Home sales in Rutherford have been buoyed by announcements that Nissan and Amazon.com are creating new jobs as well as expansions by other employers, says GNAR President Kendra Cooke, a Realtor with Bob Parks Realty.

Major retailers are expanding as well. Panera Bread recently opened a store in Smyrna, and Academy Sports + Outdoors will open soon, she says.

“It’s conveniently located, a great central location for jobs,” Cooke says of Rutherford County. “You can shop there, eat there, there are great schools.”

The busiest neighborhood was Murfreesboro’s 37128 zip code, where 123 homes changed hands for an average price of $187,294. Sales were almost 11 percent higher than in July 2011. Prices were more than 10 percent higher.

Prices in Murfreesboro rose the most in the 37127 zip code, where 34 homes were purchased for an average of $182,356. Prices were almost 44 percent higher than in July 2011. Sales were up almost 31 percent.

In Davidson County, there were 1,058 home sales last month, a 27 percent increase. The average price was $207,426, an increase of nearly 6 percent.

Antioch was one of the most active markets. There were 129 transactions, an increase of nearly 52 percent. The average price was $113,846, just 1.7 percent more than in July 2011.

East Nashville’s Inglewood neighborhood also performed well. There were 43 home sales, an increase of nearly 39 percent. The average price was $136,143, an increase of 4 percent over July 2011.

In the Hillsboro-West End neighborhood, there were 37 home sales, an increase of more than 27 percent. The average price was $403,690, about 7 percent higher than in July 2011.

Fridrich & Clark Realtor Lucy Smith says consumers are responding to good news about the region’s economy.

“People are feeling more secure about things,” she says. “People are spending again where they weren’t two years ago.”

Wilson County was the only Nashville-area county in which the average home price declined last month. There were 241 sales, an increase of about 18 percent. The average price was $191,867, a decline of more than 5 percent.

Falling interest rates have made homes more attractive, says Smith, with Mortgage Investors Group. The monthly principal and interest payment on a $100,000, 30-year mortgage is $449. At 4 percent interest, the principal and interest payment is still only $477. Taxes and insurance are in addition to that, but the total can still be less than a rent payment.

The combination of affordability and renewed consumer confidence has sparked an increase in “household formation” as individuals who rode out the recession by moving in with parents or relatives move out and buy a place of their own.

“Folks may have stayed at home for several years, but now they’re ready to go,” Smith says. “The demand, the pressure, has continued to build over several year and now folks are ready to move on.”

Many of the people engaged in household formation are buying their first house. Nearly one in five customers at Mortgage Investors Group is a first-time buyer. The company is one of Tennessee’s largest mortgage lenders.

First-timers make up the majority of Keller Williams Realtor Aaron Moore’s business in Clarksville. More than 80 percent of his clients have never owned a house before.

“First-time buyers find that for what I’m paying in rent, I can buy a house,” he says.

Those buyers can often get help and encouragement from the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA), says Patricia Smith, the agency’s director of public affairs. THDA is a self-supporting government organization that promotes home ownership and the home building and building materials industries.

In the Nashville region, qualified first-time buyers can receive THDA down payment assistance for a home with a price up to $275,000, though there are income limits. A one or two-person household can earn up to $79,440. That goes up to $92,680 for a three or four-person household. In return, the first-time buyers complete a course on successful home ownership, says THDA’s Smith.

THDA’s down payment assistance helps first timers hold on to their cash or pay out-of-pocket expenses that they might not have anticipated, she says.

THDA is stimulating the home buying market in another way: Veterans and active duty military personnel get a half-percent reduction in their mortgage interest when they buy a home.

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