04/06/08 — Market not as tough for house sales

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Market not as tough for house sales

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 6, 2008 3:56 AM

Bucking declines throughout the state in 2007, existing home sales in Wayne County actually increased over 2006, but only by a modest 1.2 percent.

And, while it's too early to tell how 2008 will play out with gains in January, but losses in February, local Realtors say that Wayne County's market has remained steady amid the recent growing and bursting of the housing bubble.

"As a general rule, we've been fortunate in that our market has remained fairly steady and fairly stable," said Lyn Williford Jr. of the L. Williford Co. and president of the Wayne County Association of Realtors. "That's just normal of our market."

That's not to say, however, that the county hasn't been affected by the national trends over the last few years.

"The nature of the market has just been really strong," Williford said. "But there's nothing specifically I can think of locally (that caused an upswing), just like there's nothing I can think of locally driving the slowdown.

"We weren't experiencing 20 percent increases in a given year, but we're not experiencing 20 percent declines now either."

In fact, between 2004 and 2007, existing home sales in Wayne County rose only 26.4 percent.

During that same time frame, the average home price increased by 9.6 percent, even though from 2006 to 2007 that number dipped by 2 percent.

Williford explained, though, that because of the fact that Wayne County's market is relatively small, even minor changes can have big effects on its statistics.

But overall, he largely credits the presence of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base for the stability of Wayne County's housing market.

"The base is a very stabilizing factor. It keeps us on a good, steady, even keel," he said. "And we keep chugging along."

He also said that some of the recent growth can likely be tracked back to Raleigh's higher home prices, as well a desire of some people to live in Wayne County and commute -- especially with the improvements made on I-795 and the soon-to-open U.S. 70 Clayton bypass.

"As Raleigh grows and expands, it's already down into the Smithfield and Selma areas, and it's going to continue in this direction as roads improve," Williford said.

And so at the end of the day, he explained, Wayne County seems to be both a buyer's and seller's market.

"I think there's definitely inventory, and rates are fairly low," he said. "A buyer coming into this market would find it favorable, but the low rates are favorable for sellers, too."

It's a trend that lenders are noticing as well.

"Our volume has definitely picked up," said First Financial Mortgage Co.'s Karen Russo. "We still have, fortunately, a lot of people moving into the base, so a high percentage of our business is from active-duty military."

And so, National City Mortgage Goldsboro branch lender Amy Head added, "... locally, we're doing just fine. Things are not as down as it seems in the media."

And foreclosures are not as much of a problem in Wayne County as they are in other parts of the country, either.

From 2006 to 2007, cases of potential foreclosures actually decreased by 9.3 percent to their lowest level since 2004. And so far this year, less than 150 such cases have been filed.

But homeowners aren't the only ones benefiting from Wayne County's growth and stable housing stock.

So is the rental market, with homes, townhouses and apartments going from vacant to full this year, leaving rental companies like John T. Bell Realty and REA Properties, both with more than 400 units, almost completely full -- an improvement over previous years.

"When I first started the market was this good, and it stayed this good, but from about mid-2006, the market went down," said Shawn Jennings with REA. "This is kind of where it normally stays. It just seems better because it was tough, and we had questionable ups and downs in the rental market. And that's not typical for Goldsboro, it hasn't been typical."

She attributes the downs of the market in 2006 and even into 2007 to new rental properties, military deployments and the increase of homeownership.

Now the upswing might be attributable, at least in part, to the influx of military personnel from the new 911th Air Refueling Squadron, which is expected to bring in nearly 300 new airmen and families by the end of the summer.

"I wouldn't say most of our clients are military, but a lot of them are," said Molly Romito with Bell Realty.

That influx, as well as the growth of the Triangle, also seems to be what's driving the new home market, which has seen 387 new residential permits issued in Goldsboro and 2,650 in the unincorporated areas of Wayne County since 2004.

-- Staff Writers Bonnie Ed-wards, Kenneth Fine, Anessa Myers and Nick Hiltunen contributed to this report.