Home buyers have edge now

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 22, 2008


Editor and Publisher

LAPLACE – Robin Franks swears it is not just a sales pitch.

“Right now, for as long as I have been in the business, I think this is the best time ever for people to look into buying a new home,” she said.

Despite the national reports of housing slowdowns, and the regional stories of a slowdown in the sales of homes, Franks said there are many factors which are lining up to make it the best time ever from the buyers perspective.

“Interest rates were at 5?% this week and there was talk of the fed cutting them even more, not to mention that people have their pick of the best inventory of houses ever in the St. John area,” she said. “And now that a lot of people have had their houses on the market since last year, we’re seeing prices come down.”

Franks echoed the thoughts of several local real estate men and women this week in looking at just where the area housing market will be going in the near, and longer term future.

As the branch manager for Latter & Blum in LaPlace, having worked in the business for over 15 years, she said they began seeing an increase in business right after the first of the year.

“As soon as we opened our doors on January 2, we saw an instant increase in business,” she said. “And that was before the rates started coming down.”

Delton Arceneaux of Arceneaux Realty believes that a tightening in regulations for the mortgage business now make those companies more anxious to work as hard as possible to get people qualified.

“No doubt the restrictions are tougher to get a loan now, but what I hear is that the mortgage companies and lenders for new homes have money they want to lend. You should go talk to someone if you are thinking at all about buying a house since now is a good time to do it,” he said.

Dana MacCord of Prudential Gardner calls it “definitely a buyer’s market right now,” since she points to the lower interest rates and people getting more realistic about what their homes should sell for.

“We still had the Katrina affect lingering through last year when a lot of people were trying to get high prices for their homes,” she remarked. “But that is over and people are being more realistic. Prices are coming down to better levels, and that also brings new construction prices down.”

MacCord said that the December, ’06 average listing price in the area was $221,000, while that number was down to $204,000 as the average listing price in December, ’07, making it clear that prices are falling.

Meanwhile, the average selling price went from $191,000 to $194,000 in that span of time, showing that the value of homes is staying up.

Franks said that there is still a great inventory of houses, with over 230 still listed at the end of January for St. John Parish, while a “normal” amount of homes on the market before Katrina was more around the 140 mark.

“And the thing we are really seeing is that people are looking for very well fixed up existing homes, or new homes. So if you have an older house and want it to move, do some renovation to give it a fresh look and it will have a better chance of selling,” she added.

Arceneaux also agreed that prices were coming down, and the drop in interest rates should help sales, but he also believed the tighter mortgage regulations would be a good thing, long term.

“One of the biggest hurdles to getting the market moving is to see how many people do qualify with the stricter rules,” he said. “But it had to be done to clean up the mortgages we have. However that should ensure people who are buying homes really can afford to keep them.”