Houses are selling at a faster pace in Calhoun County than they were before the 2008 recession, according to numbers released this month, but experts aren’t worried about a 2008-style housing crash.
They say banks and their customers are more careful with their money these days.
“It’s not going to collapse because these mortgages are not going to go bad,” said Everett King, of ERA King Real Estate in Anniston. “They’re not making loans to people with a 500 credit score.”
Housing sales in Calhoun County were 8 percent higher in November than they were the same time a year ago, according to numbers released this month by the Alabama Center for Real Estate, or ACRE at the University of Alabama.
By the end of November, the county had seen 1,578 home sales in 2018. That puts the area on a pace to beat last year’s numbers, and it’s well above the roughly 1,400 per year sold at the height of the nationwide housing bubble in the middle of the last decade.
Most tellingly, ACRE’s numbers show the average home on the market for only about 63 days, half the time it took to sell last year.
“It looks like we’ve definitely come through the recovery,” said Joey Crews of Keller Williams Realty in Anniston. “We could actually use more inventory, to be honest with you.”
Strong home sales have been a nationwide trend for some time, rising as the economy has improved. Miranda Goble, who moved into a newly bought house in Wellington with her boyfriend and three kids at the end of November, was one of thousands who’ve been doing the math and waiting for the right time. Seven years after a divorce, with her student loans paid off, she decided she was ready.
“I heard that interest rates would be going up,” said Goble, 35.
The likelihood of higher interest rates in 2019 has some analysts predicting a slowdown in home sales in some of the nation’s hottest markets. That’s not quite the worry for the researchers at ACRE, who said they expect modest growth in sales into the next year.
A bigger concern: Too few houses and too many buyers, something that could drive up home prices. K.C. Conway, an ACRE analyst, said that while housing starts were up in November, the rise really occurred only in multifamily housing, providing no relief for people in major urban areas who are seeing the cost of a house go up.
“This trend reflects the growing affordability challenge that is a nationwide and (Alabama) issue,” he wrote in an email to The Star.
King, who sells houses in both Anniston and the Birmingham area, said the recession-era crash drove many builders out of the business — with the result that few people are building new houses now, despite growing population and growing interest in home-buying.
King said Birmingham tends to follow nationwide trends — and right now the trend is higher prices and fast-selling houses. He said a house in Jefferson County can sell in less than 40 days. Anniston is different, still growing into the shoes it once filled when it was home to an Army base 20 years ago.
One thing the two counties have in common is a slow pace of new home building, something King worries will limit healthy growth and drive prices up. King said he’s actually hoping a slight increase will cool the market a little.
One thing local real estate agents don’t fret about is a recession-style property slowdown that brings the whole economy down around it.
“It’s taken us 12 years to get back where we were,” said Crews. “Housing is supposed to grow at about 3 percent per year, so we’re about right.”
Numbers from the Calhoun County Probate Office show that despite the growing sales, new mortgages in the county are a fraction of what they were during the last housing boom. More than 6,000 mortgages were recorded every year in the county in the pre-recession years. Calhoun County may top 2,500 mortgages this year. Foreclosures are down below pre-recession lows, too.
King sees that as a sign people and banks aren’t over-extended in home refinancing and risky home loans, the way they were in the lead-up to the last decade’s housing bubble.
“It feels like 2007 or 2008, but the difference is that if the market slows down, the foreclosures won’t be there,” King said.
Among the buyers taking more cautious first steps into home ownership is David Deihlman, 23, who went in with his twin brother Adam to buy an Eastaboga house for around $50,000 this year. Both men are temporary workers at Honda, and are looking for permanent positions there.
Deihlman said he isn’t worried about a 30-year obligation on the house, because he isn’t spending much.
“I could have it paid off in a few years,” he said.