A “sold” sign hangs in front of a house in the new Brookhaven subdivision off Tree Lane in Snellville on Friday afternoon. (Staff Photo: Jason Braverman)
BY THE NUMBERS
The following are the total permits issued for the construction of single-family homes in Gwinnett by year.
*Permits issued through June
LAWRENCEVILLE — Recently, a rezoning hearing turned into a debate on the housing market.
Why should a developer be allowed a change in zoning conditions to build a new neighborhood, when houses across Gwinnett remain half-built, empty, abandoned, on the precipice of foreclosure, or languishing on the market, while a homeowner watches his equity disappear?
Todd Stein, a resident near the proposed development just outside of Buford, asked commissioners Tuesday for help in staving off a new development before the homes already there have a chance to regain their value.
“We are really hurting right now,” Stein said. “Our largest investment, our homes, have not recovered from the crash, and there is no end in sight. We need another subdivision like we need a hole in the head.”
But developer John Purcell said the market is strong. National builders are ready to reinvest, and homes are selling.
There really is hope, a renewed sense of optimism, fewer foreclosures and quick sales, agreed Commissioner Tommy Hunter, who lives a few miles away.
“I’m encouraged every day when I drive around that neighborhood,” he said of the homes under construction nearby.
After decades of home-building as one of the biggest local industries, the 2008 market bubble bust caused development to all but halt. In 2009, only 446 single-family housing permits were issued for the entire year, a number that wouldn’t have been unheard of for a single month just a few years before.
This year, though, the developers seem to be getting back to work, with 1,341 permits issued during the first half of the year.
Nationally, new home sales hit a five-year high in June, achieving the highest level since May 2008, according to data released Wednesday. Single-family home sales were up 38.1 percent, compared to June 2012, which is the largest increase since January 1992. But the Reuters report noted that June showed a surprise drop in home resales.
Local Realtor Michael Blackburn says the return of new construction is something to celebrate, but he isn’t sure that means the housing market has fully rebounded.
“For so long those developed lots sat all grown over with weeds and nothing was happening with them,” Blackburn said. “Builders have returned and they appear to be doing a great job not just in building but in selling their homes.”
In many cases, builders were able to get land from the bank at a low price, so the home values are being kept “at a reasonable level,” Blackburn said, and the appraisal, which has come to be such an issue in resales, doesn’t seem to be a problem.
And yes, the foreclosure and short sale market has slowed, which has helped keep the value of undistressed sales intact, he added.
Blackburn, who was the Realtor of the Year for the Northeast Atlanta Metro Association of Realtors last year, said he and his partner were able to ride through the housing market’s worst years by diversifying and entering into the HUD market.
That is the key to success, he said, adding that people are adapting again in the current state, where mortgage rates are beginning to rise and some deals are still hard to close.
“I think every year there is a new challenge that you have to adapt to,” Blackburn said. “You have to be willing to change.”
Recently, he said, people have been willing to put their homes back on the market, as values have become to stabilize. In fact, he is seeing bidding wars and houses going for higher than list price, which was almost unheard of a few years ago.
“If a home is priced right, it’s going to sell in a heartbeat,” Blackburn said.
Recently, he showed Jamie Bubb a Snellville area home placed back on the market, after the late owner’s son had offered it up as a rental for a few years.
Bubb turned to Blackburn, a family friend, to begin the house search with her husband. She is just learning about interest rates and escrows and worrying as much about how her family will expand as how to keep up with home maintenance.
But whether the housing market is back in peak position, the time is right for the newlyweds, she said.
“I’m getting really excited,” Bubb said.