Despite national bailouts, Columbia's housing market still OK

Friday, September 26, 2008 | 3:32 p.m. CDT; updated 4:49 p.m. CDT, Friday, September 26, 2008

 COLUMBIA — Columbia and Boone County's housing market remains solid, bankers and real estate agents say, despite the economic turmoil at the national and world level and a record number of foreclosures in Boone County.

"It's not great, but it's business as usual," Matt Williams of Hawthorn Bank said last week as part of a paneled discussion between mortgage, housing and banking officials in Columbia.

Carol Van Gorp, CEO of Columbia's Board of Realtors, created the panel to combat worries about the city's housing markets amid national bailouts.

And the news is relatively good, Van Gorp and other realtors and bankers agreed.

The median price of homes in Boone County has risen from $149,900 in September 2006 to $154,000 as of Sept. 22, although fewer homes are being sold. Through September 2007, a total of 1,756 single-family units had been sold in Boone County. As of Sept. 22, 1,417 single-family residential units had been sold this year in the county.

Homes have stayed on the market for a longer period of time, Van Gorp noted. From January through Sept. 26, houses remained on the market an average of 83 days. Last year, the average was 80 days, she said.

In the past, realtor Greg Harmon said if he showed a large number of houses to a prospective buyer without a purchase, he'd think he wasn't communicating to his client well enough. Now, Harmon said he talks with a more cautious buyer who wants to see plenty of homes before making a purchase.

In the financial sector, some banks have enjoyed a better year, said both Mary Wilkerson, vice president of marketing at Boone County National Bank, and Andrew Beverley, president and CEO of First National Bank & Trust Co.

First National Bank has posted 10 percent more mortgages in the first eight months of this year than in 2007, Beverley said.

Yet the number of foreclosed homes in Boone County have tied a record so far this month. As of noon Friday, 37 homes in the county had been foreclosed on during the month of September.

That was the highest number of foreclosures recorded in a month since 1987, according to data from the Boone County Recorder. So far in 2008, 236 homes have been foreclosed, five more than all of last year.

"It's not exactly like they're not existent. We have a bunch," Harmon said. "But as a general rule, bank properties are not affecting our values."

Harmon, who also runs a Web site featuring foreclosed properties, said banks have upped the prices of  foreclosed properties that investors often want to fix up and quickly sell for a profit. The higher prices for foreclosures mean less of a deal for investors.

Harmon said foreclosures affect property values in a neighborhood if a house isn't maintained.

New construction  in Columbia has continued its slide. As of Sept. 22, the number of new building permits issued in Columbia so far in 2008 is 188, fewer than half the permits issued last year — 438.

Even with the high number of local foreclosures, now is no time to panic, said Chris Sanders of Allied Mortgage. Instead, Sanders said, anticipate a return to the basics of buying a home: more emphasis on credit scores, a larger down payment and few or no 100 percent loans.

"If you're doing good, conservative investing ... you really don't have to worry too much about these tough economic times," Wilkerson said. "We're still putting people in homes."

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