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Data reveals Newton can meet demand

COVINGTON - Newton County has enough houses for sale to meet market demand for more than a year, according to data from the Georgia Multiple Listing Service.

As of Aug. 21, there were 1,649 homes for sale in the county, according to GMLS. That includes all occupied, unoccupied, new and resale houses.

Nearly half of those houses - 706 - are vacant homes, with some being new or unfinished construction.

During the last year, 1,383 sales were closed in the county. Based on this number, the current number of houses for sale would cover demand for a little more than a year.

Homes on the market have been for sale for an average of nearly six months, though the average time on the market for closed sales during the last year was less than four months.

The Georgia Multiple Listing Service reports between 80 and 90 percent of real estate activity - some sales, such as those between family members, may not be included, said Realtor Nancy Johnson with Keller Williams Realty in Conyers.

"We're still not suffering, but people are being careful about what they do," said Johnson, who has been selling homes in Newton County for more than 30 years.

While homes are staying on the market slightly longer than in the past, "The real concern these days is the method of financing property," Johnson said. "Last year, one appraisal of value would be sufficient to secure most mortgage loans. Now, the property value is a major consideration, as well as tightened credit requirements. Multiple appraisals are not uncommon, and original documents instead of copies of originals and extensive reverification of information is common, and this development impacts all housing markets: new, resale and rental."

Lenders are no longer willing to provide 100 percent financing, Johnson said. With down payment assistance, "in the past several years, buyers have gotten used to not having any investment in a property." Some buyers have even walked away from closings with money in their pockets, she said.

"It was easier to buy a house than rent property," she said.

As a result, the housing turnover rate increased.

"A long time ago, you had to have 20 percent to put down. People cherished their houses," Johnson said, predicting there will be a significant change in the market as financing becomes more difficult to obtain.

Information released by the U.S. Census Bureau last week named Newton County as one of the fastest growing counties in the nation from 2000 to 2007, based on the increase in residential housing units. But the local housing market has slowed drastically in the past year, according to sources with the county's planning and development department and the local homebuilder's association.

The Census Bureau ranked Newton County as the 11th fastest growing county in the nation from 2000 to 2007 based on the increase in the number of housing units.

In April 2000, the county had 23,033 housing units. That had increased to 36,964 by July 2007, an increase of 60.5 percent, or 13,931 units.

From July 2006 to July 2007, Newton County was ranked 50th in the nation in housing unit growth, with a growth rate of 4.5 percent or 1,580 units.

Information provided by the Newton County Planning and Development Department shows that in fiscal year 2008, running from July 1, 2007, to June 30, 2008, the county issued 359 new residential building permits. In fiscal year 2007, 1,147 permits were issued, more than three times the 2008 numbers. And in fiscal year 2006, 1,887 new residential permits were issued, four times as many permits as in fiscal year 2008.

That drastic decline in new housing prompted Newton County Home Builders Association President Bob Goucher to say that "growth has pretty much come to a screeching halt in Newton County."

Goucher and Planning and Development Director Marian Eisenberg said there are quite a few local developments under foreclosure, some abandoned after being only partially completed.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.

SideBar: More Info

· Current houses for sale in Newton County, including occupied, unoccupied, new and resale: 1,649

· Current vacant houses for sale in Newton County: 706

· Closed sales in Newton county during the last 12 months: 1,383

· Average market days for homes currently for sale: 154 days (nearly 6 months) and counting

· Average market days for closed sales during the last 12 months: 111 (less than 4 months)

· Average market days for properties under contract to close but not closed: 117