09/19/07 — Housing market is healthier in Wayne

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Housing market is healthier in Wayne

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on September 19, 2007 1:55 PM

Nationwide, the housing market might be in the throes of a hard slowdown, but realty companies and mortgage offices aren't seeing the same effects in Wayne County. In fact, they say, the local market is actually in pretty solid shape.

"We hear all this doom and gloom on the national level, but here, a lot of houses are still selling. We're down a little bit from last year, but Wayne County is not nearly as bad off as the national news," said Bryan Vanderpool of Cambridge Builders, who serves as president of the county's Realtor Association. "It's a great time for buyers because they have a lot to choose from, but it's not a bad time to sell either, as long you price fairly."

The problem, he explained, is that in some places across the country -- particularly in areas like the coast -- people were pricing their houses too high, speculating that the demand would continue, when all of sudden, it stopped.

Fortunately, he added, that didn't happen in Wayne County.

Here, house prices can run a wide range from $60-per-square-foot for older homes, to $130-per-square-foot for newer ones.

"We're experiencing roughly 3 percent growth a year, but we've never had a bubble," Vanderpool said. "There's just not the demand. Wayne County is probably never going to experience the kind of huge growth the beach has or the Triangle has.

"What I do see us having is steady growth, and that's what we want. A house is still the single best investment a person can make."

He credits much of Wayne County's stability in the housing market to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and its constant turnover of personnel, which in turn, leads to the regular buying and selling of homes.

Such was the case for first-time home buyers Karen and Mark Mullin, who recently moved into the Goldsboro subdivision Mears Bluff Plantation with the help of a traditional mortgage.

"It was great," Mrs. Mullin said. "It was very easy and smooth compared to some stories I hear."

Karen Russo, co-owner and office manager of First Financial Mortgage Co., also believes the high numbers of military personnel in Wayne County have helped keep the problems seen elsewhere in the mortgage industry at bay.

"We are really, really lucky here," she said. "The Southeast, as a whole, has not suffered as much as in some areas, and Goldsboro is really lucky because of the base and our constant turnover of people. Our market is more stable here."

And now, she continued, is actually a good time to seek a mortgage because interest rates have begun going down.

"We definitely saw a slowdown the last few months, but recently the number of applications has started picking back up," Ms. Russo said.

The only difference now, is that it is harder for people to get the no- or little-documentation-required loans.

"A lot of those loans are disappearing," she said. "And now, with those left, we're seeing larger down payments required than in the past."

But even before the sub-prime market bottomed out, Ms. Russo noted, few lenders in Wayne County were known for offering such risky options.

The problem with those, she explained, is that they were being given out, with little to no down payment required, to people with credit problems, who then weren't able to refinance when rates adjusted upward and could not afford the resulting payments.

"When I first started in this business (17 years ago), things were done a lot more prudently, but over the years the industry has become more and more lenient. People wanted the most house for the least amount of money, and they wanted in with the least amount possible down," Ms. Russo said. "Now things are going back the other direction."

Fortunately, added Diane Smith, branch manager of Allied Home Mortgage Capital Corp., most of the Wayne County's companies have a history of being responsible lenders.

"We don't create the mortgage products. You have to use the products made available, but I don't think a lot of people here use adjustable rates for home loans," she said.

Even when she offered more of those types of loans than she does now, Ms. Smith said that she doesn't remember using them often. She also said that none of the foreclosures she was involved in during her 12 years in the business were a result of bad loans -- just "unfortunate" life experiences, such as death, illness, divorce or job layoffs.

In fact, while foreclosures in Wayne County increased 97 percent from 1998 to 2006, they actually dropped almost a percentage point to 525 between 2005 and 2006, according to information from the N.C. Justice Center.

And so far, for 2007, while the actual foreclosure numbers are not yet available, the number of civil cases with a foreclosure type issues are only up by 30 from 2006 -- though still down by nearly 300 from 2005.

Compared to the state as a whole, though -- a 6 percent increase in foreclosures from 2005 to 2006 to an all-time high of 45,512, and an increase of about 1,200 civil cases from 2005 to 2006 -- Wayne County looks to be in pretty good shape.

And so at least here, Ms. Russo said, now is as good a time as any to buy a home.

Currently, the bulk of her mortgages are backed through the Veteran's Administration, and are given to active and retired members of the military. Often those involve fixed rates, though some are adjustable if the buyers are planning to sell before they increase.

Other traditional mortgages -- those that require standard income and credit documentation -- also are still available.

"Those programs are safe. It's the ones that never made sense that don't exist anymore," Ms. Russo said.

All people interested in purchasing a home need to do is come in prepared.

That means, she explained, having good credit, not having any negative balances in checking accounts, deciding on a target monthly payment amount, getting pre-qualified before going shopping and not making any major purchases immediately before deciding to buy a home.

"People don't prepare anymore before purchasing a house," she said. "If they would, it could make everything just a little bit easier."