Real estate market hits slump

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 6, 2006


Editor and Publisher

LAPLACE – The adjustment in the home housing market for St. John Parish is apparently in the midst of its post-Katrina move, according to real estate experts in the area.

But even with a recent slowdown of strong proportions in home sales here, all developers and real estate agents locally seem to agree that the prediction for St. John growth is not changing.

&#8220The market really has taken a real turn in the last couple of months,” Ched Edler of Latter & Blum said. &#8220I even hear that in Metairie there are houses that haven’t shown in weeks. It seems to have hit the entire region.”

But even with Edler and others agreeing that the housing market has slowed to a crawl in October and November, those same people agree that 2007 still promises to be the beginning of solid growth for the region.

&#8220We just got so used to a hot market after Katrina,” said Angelle Songy of Century 21. &#8220And what we are seeing now is more of a steady flow than the fast pace we had. Everyone believes it will pick up after the first of the year, and I still believe St. John’s growth is definitely going to happen.”

After Hurricane Katrina struck, there was a wild housing market regionally, with houses being snatched up as quickly as they were put up for sale. Even as that trend subsided months after the storm, housing sales have been brisk up until recently.

But with more homes coming on the market now with existing homes and new construction, the market is settling into a normal pattern.

&#8220For a while after the hurricane, we would tell people to be ready to move right away if they put their house up for sale,” Songy added. &#8220But now that isn’t happening, and things are not selling so fast. It’s just sort of a normal pace like before the storm.”

Most of those questioned said that there are still factors holding up what is expected to be a strong move to St. John and the River Region. Some of that centers around the fact that many people have not gotten money from their flooded homes, from the Road Homes Program, which has been criticized statewide for its slow approval rate for homeowners.

&#8220I don’t think people would have believed that 15 months after the hurricane, they would still be waiting on their SBA or Road Home money,” Songy said. &#8220And that’s held up the market as well.”

Top local developer Joey Scontrino of Landcraft Homes agrees that the Road Home program has slowed things up, but he said the local trend is following a national slowdown in home sales.

&#8220This is consistent with the national market,” he remarked. &#8220But there will still be an added demand around here from people affected from the storm. They just haven’t gotten their money yet. After the first of the year I think you’ll see it pick up very quickly.”

He said that some criticism from Road Home directors that contractors couldn’t be found to build new homes is ridiculous.

&#8220That’s bull,” he said. &#8220I have heard some of them saying there aren’t enough contractors to build homes and I know many companies that are more than ready.”

Even with the questions recently about the local market, optimism remains high that St. John is the place to grow when the state money starts coming in, not to mention the simple fact there should continue to be a move out of New Orleans to this area in general.

&#8220You will never see the growth stop here,” Edler said. &#8220One good thing is that we have seen prices top out from the post-Katrina effect, and now the market is getting back to normal. The state loans will come in and that will stimulate things further, and then things will stir up here again.”

Songy also believes the cramped situation in St. Tammany will push more people west to St. John and St. Charles parishes.

&#8220St. Tammany always used to be the Promised Land, but not anymore,” she said. &#8220They have too many problems there now and I believe you will see people actually move from there to here. We have the best commuter system of anywhere in the region, with three roads to New Orleans or Baton Rouge, and I definitely still believe you are going to see strong growth come to St. John.”

Pam Necaise with Keller Williams in LaPlace agreed that the current market is just slow compared to Katrina, adding &#8220we are now on target for where we were before the storm, with prices coming back down. St. John will continue to grow, and that should be in the existing home market as well as new homes.”

Delton Arceneaux of Arceneaux Realty, one of the oldest local companies, believes St. John has something going for it that nowhere else does.

&#8220This is really the last frontier,” he said. &#8220People can’t go anywhere else to get out of New Orleans, and many people want to do that. Of course I still worry about this area providing better services, especially with the labor situation such a problem, but if we take care of that, we’re the natural place for more growth to happen.”