By: Julia Ritchey 912-652-0362 firstname.lastname@example.org
More than half of Savannah’s ZIP codes had price, unit sale increases over 2007 peak
From median home prices to unit sales, 2014 was another steady year for Savannah’s housing market, building on the recovery that began two years ago.
In Chatham, Bryan and Effingham counties, median sales prices and unit sales experienced overall gains, according to year-end numbers provided by the Savannah Multi-List Corp., a local real estate tracker.
“It’s been an interesting year,” said Patrick Kelley, technology director at the Multi-List Corp.
“General indicators are going in a positive direction,” he said. “We’ve actually exceeded in a number of cases, and a number of ZIP codes, 2007 peak numbers.”
In Chatham, for example, 3,725 homes sold in 2014, an increase of 4.8 percent over 2013. That number is 4.5 percent higher than its peak in 2007, at 3,565 homes, before the housing bubble burst.
A similar story unfolded in Effingham and Bryan, where 898 and 682 homes sold in 2014, respectively, an increase of 19 and 16 percent over the year. Both exceeded their 2007 peak as well.
Bonnie Gaster, president of the Savannah Area Realtors for 2015, said several areas, including west Savannah, southside and Tybee, where she specializes, saw gains.
“I think 2014 was a very positive year for people who have been in the business for a long time and a good year for newcomers,” she said.
Prices As for prices, median home sales trended upward, though more modestly than some other big cities.
“Price increases have been relatively small compared to numbers you’ve heard nationally, but our numbers never took those big double-digit increases,” Kelley said.
In six out of 14 ZIP codes in Chatham, median sales prices exceeded 2007 peaks, including top-selling areas such as southside, Pooler, midtown and Wilmington Island. In a dozen ZIP codes, median prices increased over the year.
The average median price for all areas of Chatham settled at $178,000, $4,500 more than last year and within reach of its 2007 peak of $179,900.
In Effingham, the median price rose from 10 percent over the year to $159,000, while Bryan’s remained flat at $215,000.
Notably, Hutchinson Island and the downtown 31401 ZIP had price decreases over the year. As inventory has remained at or above six months for most of 2014 — roughly 3,000 active listings or more — this has had a moderating effect on prices, which can be good for buyers, Kelley said.
In certain price ranges, in fact, inventory is getting harder to come by.
“It’s becoming a better sellers’ market because the price ranges have begun to improve and the positive attitude of the buyer is very obvious that people are feeling confident,” Gaster said.
Median time on the market, meanwhile, averaged 80 days in all three counties, a dip from the previous year, but still far from post-recession highs of 97-100.
Membership at the Savannah Area Relators, an indicator in and of itself, has swelled from its post-recession low of around 900 and now includes almost 1,400 agents. Three orientations held in 2014 brought in close to 100 new members, according to Gaster.
Stephanie Wilson-Evans has been a Realtor since 2001 but only recently joined two other colleagues, Tommy Reese and Cliff Murse, to form a new real estate firm called Three Oaks Realty, active in all three counties.
“In our first full year of business we grew — we tripled in size,” Wilson-Evans said.
Her firm now employs 10 people and has expanded its services to include property management in addition to residential and commercial real estate.
She said the slow, steady climb has been much healthier for the market, and she’s noticed that parents of Savannah College of Art Design students are starting to buy investment properties again downtown.
“It came to a real dramatic halt a few years ago, but now we’re seeing that picking up again,” she said. “I think that really speaks to the stability of the market.”
She said some areas still have a little further to go.
“We’re not back to the value we had, but we’re certainly not stagnant,” she said. “In certain markets, we’re seeing a lack of inventory.”
For example, houses in the $650,000-$850,000 range have been moving at a clip compared to some lower price points. On the Islands, $300,000-$400,000 more modern homes are getting harder to find as well.
Tiny homes and so-called microhousing may have gotten a lot of press this year, but for Savannah homebuyers, bigger remains better. Average square feet for homes purchased in 2014 in Chatham — at 2,022 square feet — increased just slightly from last year, but that number is 11 percent higher than in 2007.
On Skidaway Island, home to The Landings, the average square footage of homes bought increased 3 percent year over year, from 3,133 to 3,233 square feet. In Rincon, average square footage increased 4.6 percent from 2013. Only Bryan County saw a decrease, equating to 2.3 percent, to 2,207 square feet.
The trend toward more spacious abodes correlated to an increase in price per square foot. In Chatham that equated to an overall average of $108.97 per square foot, in Effingham about $83.11 and Bryan at $99.43.
Kelley and Gaster said another notable indicator for 2014 is the decrease in the number of foreclosure listings — at least so far.
Often banks may not list their foreclosed properties officially, waiting for better market conditions or other factors, creating what’s referred to as shadow inventory.
Even if this is the case, Gaster said, she’s noticed a precipitous drop in bank-owned properties.
“Three years ago we’d run a foreclosure report that was 18 pages — one we did last week was only three pages and included only one home on Tybee,” said Gaster. “It’s not a steal market anymore.”
She said a big obstacle has been steering investors away from that “bottom of the barrel” mentality.
“Those inventories were depleted either by first-time homebuyers or investors or someone moving to the area,” she said. “As we’ve eliminated lower price ranges, it’s been hard to get the public mindset to shift.”
Looking forward, most Realtors are maintaining their trademark optimism for 2015.
At the annual Economic Outlook luncheon hosted by the Savannah Chamber of Commerce this week, University of Georgia economist Benjamin Ayers predicted that home prices across the state would rise 6 percent and single-family home starts would go up by 20 percent.
Ayers said challenges remain for many Georgians, particularly for homeowners with mortgages worth more than their houses.
With January already halfway over, Wilson-Evans said her firm has eight listings likely to be put on the market by the end of the month and hopes to see a tripling in sales from last year.
“If we continue to progress in the fashion we are, we’re in for some really exciting years ahead of us,” she said. “There are new developments, new construction and those are all key pieces to a healthy real estate environment.”