|'Housing is stable here, it's sound'|
Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of reports concerning the housing market locally and across Louisiana.
Local builder Scott Dickson's phone has been ringing fairly often with people interested in doing remodeling work on their homes or looking into building a new one.
Listening to the national media's reports about plummeting home values, stagnant home sales and foreclosures, one would think a builder would be hard-pressed to find work these days.
Not so here in Louisiana, Dickson said.
"I don't have any complaints," Dickson said. "I'm staying plenty busy, making all my personal bills and company bills. The phone's ringing."
Standing outside Curry Creek subdivision in Calhoun, Dickson pointed to dozens of homes he's built over the past few years. A home he built in 2007, which was being leased, was shown to several interested buyers Monday and Tuesday. He expects to have an offer soon as the neighborhood is one of the more desirable areas to live in western Ouachita Parish.
"Housing is stable here, it's sound, and this subdivision is just one example of the fine communities we have to live in here in Ouachita Parish," Dickson said.
An economist recently spoke with the Louisiana Home Builder's Association and told them consumer fear was hurting the home building industry in Louisiana.
"The consumers are scared because of the national media, but the national media doesn't tell our story locally," Dickson said. "Anyone in real estate knows the primary rules in real estate are location, location, location. All real estate is a local market, and you can't paint the whole real estate market with a nation-wide brush."
Meanwhile, Dickson said home prices have risen steadily over the years. The Federal Housing Finance Agency ranks Louisiana 13th in the nation for home price appreciation by state.
The Monroe region also ranked second out of 292 metropolitan areas in the United States for home price appreciation in 2008, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency's report.
"We need to talk about what's really happening here," Dickson said. "Our local banks have money to lend. They don't have any customers calling because the customers hear the nationwide news reports. But there's money to lend, and interest rates are good."
Dickson and his wife recently refinanced their home with a local bank at 4.75 percent on a 30-year note.
"That's taking advantage of the times, I guess you can say," Dickson said. "But people right now are sitting on the fence waiting for something to push them off, and if fear pushes them, then they push off to the side that causes them not to enter the market. But, the reality is: the interest rates, the pricing, the selection are all great right now."
He has talked with several people recently who are considering buying a home or building a new one, yet they expressed concern in entering the market due to the national media reports about the housing crisis.
He said if a person has good credit and wants to buy a home or build one, there is no reason for them not to pursue it now.
Randy Russell of Russell-Moore Lumber in Monroe agrees that if people have the finances and want to build a new home, now is the perfect time to do it.
"Lumber and building materials are as low right now since I would say about the mid-90s," Russell said. "So, from a cost standpoint, now is a good time to build. I can't think of a better time to do it in the past 15 years. Each individual has to look at their own financial situation, but if a person is in position to build, now is a good time to do it."
However, he said with recent layoffs at Bastrop's International Paper and the situation at Pilgrim's Pride, "Many people are not anxious to get out there and build a new house."
He said many people from IP and Pilgrim's Pride are customers at Russell-Moore, so their financial situation will have an impact on the lumber company, too.
Sales at Russell-Moore are close to last year's numbers right now, but Russell expects an overall 20 percent drop in sales over the course of this year.
"We're coming out of a typical slow season — the winter — so we will have to see what affect all this has through April, May, June and July," Russell said, referring to the spring and summer months when many people begin remodeling efforts or building new homes.
"We do anticipate about a 20 percent drop (in sales), but when you look at other markets where they have a 50 to 60 percent drop, this is favorable," Russell said.
Another issue hurting people in proceeding with plans to build or buy a home is their credit scores, Dickson said.
"What's really crippling a lot of people who are interested in buying a home now is their credit rating," Dickson explained. "But, that's a totally different thing than the foreclosure issue. So, if you have a good credit score, banks have money to lend to buy a house or refinance an existing home."
However, if people do not have money to put down on a home, Dickson said they will learn that "the days of 100 percent lending are over."
"That's not because of the situation, but because they have returned to traditional lending practices," he said. "Yet there are still buyers who have good credit who are scared because of what they hear."
There are areas in northeast Louisiana that may be having problems with home value depreciation, but that is to be expected in any real estate market, according to Dickson said.
"From my experience, I do not see plummeting real estate values, but certainly, real estate is local … the southside of Monroe could be having problems, the southside of Ruston, north side of Bastrop, they all could be having problems," Dickson continued.
"But here where I am used to working at in west Ouachita Parish and east Lincoln Parish, I don't see any problems other than consumer confidence."