As executive officer for the Columbia Board of Realtors, Carol Van Gorp eyes a lot of real estate statistics about buyers and sellers. In October, she became one of those statistics when she joined the thousands of new homeowners in Columbia.
“Everybody kind of wants to get into homeownership right now,” she said. “We felt like we could get a lot of house for our dollar.”
By November 2004, the total number of commercial and residential building permits issued by the Columbia Public Works Department had reached 2,119 for the year, eclipsing the 2003 total of 1,924. That figure does not include December 2004.
“We’ve just been very busy,” said Rich Sternadori, the city’s chief building inspector. “We’ve gotten a lot coming our way and it hasn’t stopped yet.”
According to the Board of Realtors’ multiple listing services , 2,855 houses were sold in 2004, generating revenue in excess of $433 million. In 2003, 2,651 houses were sold at a combined revenue of more than $376 million. The 2004 figure does not include the last week of the year, which is usually one of the busiest weeks for real estate closings.
In addition, the median sale price of a home in 2004 was $133,000, up from the 2003 median of $124,900.
“The trend line is going up,” Van Gorp said.
Paul Land, vice president of Plaza Real Estate Services, said, “It is at the top of the heap. If people have a choice between stocks, CDs (certificates of deposit) or real estate they choose real estate.”
Both Van Gorp and Land said low mortgage-interest rates and population growth are major contributors to Columbia’s healthy real estate market.
Land said the nation has experienced a two-year period of 40-year lows on mortgage interest rates. According to Freddie Mac’s mortgage market survey, the 2004 national average for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 5.84 percent. That figure represents 0.01 of a point more than the 2003 national average. In 2002, the average was 6.54 percent.
(Freddie Mac, or the Federal Home Loan Corporation, packages conventional and FHA mortgages.) Another reason for the booming housing market is the population growth in Boone County.
Land recently presented a report at an economic development conference that used U.S. Census data to examine the population growth in Audrain, Boone, Callaway, Cole, Howard and Randolph counties dating back to 1820. The results showed that surrounding counties such as Howard had a population peak in 1880, Randolph in 1930 and Audrain in 1980, whereas Boone County has had steady population growth since 1930.
“Boone County is growing and some of the surrounding county’s populations are shrinking or stagnant,” Land said.
Van Gorp offered some ideas about that growth.
“We are a regional center. Some of the areas around us in fact are losing population to us because their jobs are in Columbia,” she said.
According to the Census Bureau, Columbia’s population increased dramatically in the 1960s. Since that time, the lowest percentage increase in Boone County’s population in one decade has been 11.9 percent, with the highest reaching an astronomical 46 percent between 1960 and 1970. In 40 years, the population has increased from a little more than 53,000 to more than 135,000.“They say when you reach a population of 80,000 to 100,000 the community begins to blossom,” said 30-year veteran real estate agent Becky Wagner, who owns RealtyNet.
Van Gorp doesn’t think the bubble will burst in the near future.
“I think Columbia’s economic future is very healthy,” she said.