It might seem like a gamble to purchase a home when you know the military could move you at any time. Thousands of military families roll the dice each year and many times come out with an excellent investment. Purchasing property, given the right circumstances, can be a great alternative to base housing or renting.
To look at the current housing market in coastal Georgia for those on orders to Hunter Army Airfield or Fort Stewart, we turned to one of the REALTORS® “A-Graded” by our community on PCSgrades, Karin Carr of Keller Williams Coastal Area Partners.
IS NOW A GOOD TIME TO BUY?
The coastal Georgia market has been a seller’s market for several years. Carr says the local housing market is finally converting to a more balanced market. “This is fabulous news for buyers! It means fewer buyers are competing for the same handful of homes.”
IS IT A BUYER’S MARKET OR A SELLER’S MARKET?
You might think that a seller’s market would be a bad time to buy. Technically it’s still a seller’s market in the region. Carr says a balanced market is 6 months’ worth of inventory. “We’re still hovering around 90 days in most areas.”
What this means is that it would take 90 days to sell every house that’s currently on the market based on buyer demand. So there are homes currently available to potential buyers.
STATUS OF INVENTORY Near Fort Stewart or Hunter Army Airfield
According to Carr, there are 1055 available single-family homes in Chatham, Effingham, and Bryan Counties priced under $300,000. There are an additional 487 homes listed below $200,000.
“For the first time in years we’re seeing the words, price reduced,” says Carr. “And Motivated Seller comments from other agents talking about their properties for sale.”
AFFORDABLE HOMES – MEDIAN SALE PRICES
The average sales price for Chatham County is $261,471 for a single-family home. In Bryan County it’s $293,282 and in Effingham it’s $221,760. The average price for the tri-county area is $258,245, which is up 4% over this time last year.
WHAT IS THE COMPETITION LIKE?
Carr says there are still sometimes multiple offers in certain locations and price ranges, but it’s no longer the general rule. “Some neighborhoods are considered ‘hot’ and homes sell quickly,” says Carr. “While others might take 30-60 days to go under contract.”
She adds homes in the lower price range and in very good condition still sell quickly with multiple offers. Fixer uppers and more expensive homes typically take longer to sell. “So if you find a house you love, in a nice area, and the price is right, you should make a decision asap so you don’t lose out.”
OPTION FOR RENTERS
The coastal Georgia rental market is very competitive and has been for a while. Carr says there are currently only 24 single family homes for rent on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) under $1300/month in Chatham County. “These homes rent in a heartbeat.” The average number of days on the market is only 22 days and that includes the time it takes for the landlord to process all the applications they get and pick one.
“It’s also officially more expensive to rent than it is to buy now,” says Carr. “For example, if you found a great 3 bedroom/2 bath home with a fenced yard in a lovely neighborhood with a pool and a playground, it might cost $1700/month to rent it and only $1500/month for your mortgage payment if you were to buy it instead.”
Some people like to experience a community before purchasing a home. “If your goal is to learn your way around before committing to a neighborhood, renting is a great option, but it will cost more.”
LEASE BARGAINING POWER
There is simply too much demand so lease bargaining power is at a low. If a landlord has 10 applications to choose from, they hold the power, not the prospective tenants.
Carr says, “If you have excellent credit, no pets, are willing to sign a long lease, and make plenty of money you can always try to negotiate an extra or two, like having lawncare thrown in at no additional cost. But even then, it’s a long shot.”
AVAILABILITY OF NEW CONSTRUCTION
The coastal Georgia construction business is booming! Carr says, “Pooler and Guyton, in particular, have plenty of subdivisions in the high $100s and low to mid $200s. I’ve helped many buyers build beautiful homes for less than $200,000.”
Builders will usually offer to pay part of the buyer’s closing costs or throw in extras like a fridge, washer and dryer, or window blinds when they have a house that is completed and is just sitting there. You get a brand new home that needs no remodeling for less money out of pocket.
ADVICE FOR FIRST-TIME BUYERS
It’s really important to get pre-approved from a local lender who knows VA loans inside and out. Choosing an online lender may seem like a great way to get a lower interest rate, but they are often hard to reach and hard to deal with.
“It’s really nice to have a loan officer you can text on a Saturday with questions vs. calling a 1-800 number Monday through Friday from 8-5 and speaking to a call center representative who has no information on your home loan status,” says Carr.
Find a great Realtor who is familiar with the area and likes working with buyers. Check out “A-Graded” Realtors like Carr on PCSgrades.com. Carr says, “It doesn’t cost you anything and a good agent will advise you whether the asking price is too high or undervalue, tell you about the areas, and help you write a strong offer.”
If you are interested in using your VA loan benefit, you don’t need a down payment but you will need to set money aside to cover closing costs and a home inspection. Carr always recommends having $3000-5000 in the bank when you start house hunting. “The seller may agree to pay your closing costs if you ask them, but they are not required to do so.”
IS IT EASY TO RESELL IN A FEW YEARS?
There is never a guarantee but Carr says local home prices have been going up every year for a while now. “It probably won’t continue forever so there’s no guarantee you’d be able to resell easily in only 3 years. But if you buy an outdated house and spend time to fix it up, it will be easier to sell if you’ve improved it.”
If, when your orders come, you are unable to sell and make a profit, you might consider renting the home out. Carr points out there are many tax advantages to owning investment properties and “as long as you can charge more for rent than your mortgage, you’ll make a profit each month as well. Bonus!”
Carr makes some good points in favor of home ownership. “Interest rates are still very low. We have more homes for sale and less competition from buyers, and now that it’s fall, fewer buyers are thinking of buying homes right now.”
Spring and summer are the high demand seasons while the November-January timeframe is historically slower. “If you have thought of buying a home in coastal Georgia, fall and winter are a great time to start looking!”
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