2009 is a good time to buy, realtors say

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By The Staff

 La Grange mayor, county judge-executive, realtor and now bus driver. One of the most recognizable men in Oldham County, John Black, started driving a school bus earlier this month. 

With the slow real estate market, he wanted some extra income and a way to stay involved in his community. “Hey, I’m driving a bus and I’m proud of it,” he said. He said he has an additional level of respect for his fellow drivers, and the rigorous training they go through before ever sitting behind the big steering wheel. He trained for two months, he said. Other realtors are also having a lean year. Twenty years ago, Michael Logsdon launched his real estate career in Oldham County. In 2008, he made less money than that first year, he said. “The market is slow,” he said. “There’s no doubt the market is slow.” And he’s seen the horror stories like others have. One client lost his job days before signing a mortgage. “But it’s gonna get better,” he said. The statistics back up his story, at least the first part of it. The real estate market is as slow as ever in Oldham County. But it’s not as bad as many places.  In some parts of Oldham County, it’s actually holding even. Most Oldham home prices hold steady For homes north of Interstate 71, the average sale price in 2008 was essentially the same as the year before — about $309,000, according to statistics from the Greater Louisville Association of Realtors.  Across Oldham County,  the sale price is down 3.2 percent compared to 2007. Although the price was about the same, the volume slowed. In 2008, only 695 homes sold, compared to 2007 when 926 homes sold. And 2007 wasn’t exactly a record year. This has flooded the market with homes, about one year’s worth of inventory. As of Feb. 19, 686 homes were on the market in Oldham County, compared to 488 on the market one year earlier. Lisa Stephenson, executive vice-president of GLAR, said this is always the slowest time of year to sell. Hopefully things will pick up in the spring and summer, she said.  What should also help is a credit up to $8,000 for first time home buyers enacted as part of President Obama’s stimulus package. It should have a trickle-up effect, she said, as sellers are able to get out of their homes and possibly move up to a more expensive home. The economic impact of purchasing a home has far-reaching effects, she said.  There’s the title company, the attorney, the cost of new paint, buying new furniture and hiring  movers. And it directly impacts builders and realtors. Oldham County had as many as 3,300 people who work in real estate or construction, according to U.S. Census estimates.  When residents earn more money, they have more to spend in any number of places. “It impacts a lot of people,” Stephenson said. Those who can afford  to buy are fearful Logsdon attributes much of the decline in the market to fear. People are so worried about the economy, that even those who can afford a new home aren’t buying. He points out that more than 90 percent of people still have their jobs. “If you haven’t lost your job, what’s the difference between this year and last year?” he said. “Nothing.” He thinks a positive attitude will do more to cure the nation’s economic woes than any multi-billion dollar stimulus bill. “We’re gonna pull through this,” he said. “We’re Americans.” He said right now is a great time to buy. “There are some awesome deals out there,” he said.  Those deals are not because of a wholesale depreciation in values, but because some sellers desperately need to sell their house or risk losing it, he said. Home buyers can also get interest rates of about 5 percent on their mortgage. They may need a squeaky clean credit history, Logsdon said, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. If there were tougher limits to credit over the last decade, this whole recession might not have happened, he said. Logsdon and Black may not be getting out of the business anytime soon, but many of their colleagues already left. Twenty-seven fewer people are licensed to sell real estate in Oldham County this year compared to last, from 356 to 329. Statewide, 1,322 fewer people are licensed than in 2008. Shelly Saffran, director of administration for the Kentucky Real Estate Commission, which issues licenses to sell real estate, said this is the first decrease she has seen in her 19 years with the commission. Tim Moore, vice-president of marketing with Semonin Realtors, said they’ve had some agents leave, about on par with other firms. They also have found ways to save costs, including reorganization of offices. During the boom years, they expanded their offices like other firms. But with the downturn in the market, this fall they changed their La Grange location from a full office to what they call a “convenience location.”  A non-broker answers the phone there and it’s a place for brokers to meet clients, but the full-scale office has consolidated into the Prospect branch. Everyone’s looking for ways to control costs, Moore said.   E-mail us about this story at: jfoster@oldhamera.com