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Interest Rises Among 1st-Time Home Buyers

Strong housing market attracting first-time home buyers

May 31, 2016

By ALLISON OLCSVAY The Mountaineer - Tribune News Service

Kaleb Wingate grew up in Haywood County, North Carolina, and after graduating from law school, his options were wide open, but he elected to come home to Haywood to begin his career.

As a prosecutor for the 30th Judicial District, he could have chosen any number of western North Carolina communities to call home, but he chose Waynesville, because the community offered him something he couldn't find elsewhere. The people.

"I wanted to come home because I enjoy the sense of community here," he said.

For Wingate, coming home also meant finding a place to call his own.

Like other millennials, Wingate had a very specific type of house and location in mind when he began the search for his first home. He wanted a smaller home that would be energy efficient and easy to manage with a busy schedule. It also needed to be close enough to town to walk to Main Street.

Walkability is a key factor for many people Wingate's age said Patrick McDowell, Wingate's real estate agent and the president of the Haywood County Board of Realty.

Many first time homebuyers, especially millennials, are looking for a home that reflects a certain quality of life.

"They like to walk to work and social gathering spots when possible and enjoy a close community," said McDowell.

"Being close to work was important to me. It's nice to be able to walk to work. Even just a short walk is a great way to clear your head at the end of a long day," said Wingate.

"Haywood County also scores well on other quality of life measures, such as water quality, weather and outdoor pursuits. People are very much aware of that and are choosing to be here," said McDowell.

A combination of low interest rates and a healthy supply of homes on the market are creating an ideal environment for homebuyers in Haywood County.

The strong market is enticing young buyers and first-time homeowners to enter the market at increasing rates.

"We are seeing local people who grew up here, like Wingate, choosing to stay or return after college, buying homes now," said McDowell.

This past year real estate transactions in the county were at an all-time high, with the largest total sales numbers posted since 2006.

In the first quarter of 2016, the volume of home sales represented the highest ever recorded, at $1.9 million, for this same period.

"Prices are trending upward, but not spiking, which is good," said McDowell.

The growth in home sales has been trending upward in a controlled pattern, as opposed to the spiraling growth seen in 2007, just before the housing market collapsed, McDowell said.

The supply of homes on the market is dropping, indicating a stronger market. In 2013, there was an average of 20 months supply on the market; in early 2016, the supply was down to 12 months.

"Depending on what type and size of home you are looking for, it is still a buyers market," he said.

In the $125,000 to $175,000 range, the most popular price range, the supply of homes on the market is about six months worth, meaning there is a healthy supply, not too few and not too many.

The balance doesn't tip too far in favor of either buyers or sellers. Where buyers win however, is in purchase power. With interest rates remaining low, buyers are able to buy more home than they might have in the past, while keeping payments low.

For the higher priced homes, $750,000 and above, it is very much a buyer's market, said McDowell. Supply is much greater and demand in that category is lower.

Homes in town are in higher demand right now than homes in rural locations in Haywood, in part due to buyers like Wingate who are looking to live within walking distance to amenities.

A strong home market also means a tight rental market in the county. Single-family homes on the market for rent rarely last more than a few weeks before they are snapped up, said McDowell.

"Some buyers are cashing in on this, buying up smaller homes and renting them out almost immediately. Haywood could definitely use more multifamily housing to meet the demand," McDowell said.

For those sitting on the fence, trying to decide if this is the right time to buy, McDowell urges them to strongly consider entering the market.

"Right now is a strong time for people to consider making that leap," he said. "With interest rates at an all-time low and the great properties coming up every day, now is the time."

Wingate said his home search only took about a month.

"It was an educational experience, but overall it went pretty smoothly. There seemed to be plenty of options to choose from in my price range," he said. "I was especially thankful for the first-time homebuyer program at Champion Credit Union that I was able to take advantage of, which allowed me to purchase with no down payment."

For Wingate, buying was a smart choice. He said he is now paying less for housing than when he was renting.

"I enjoy having a place to call my own, it definitely feels like I am investing in my own future, rather than paying off someone else's mortgage," he said.

His advice to others considering buying a home -- "Think about it, do your research and know what you really want. But if you plan on staying in the area, I would definitely recommend buying."

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Copyright (c) 2016, The Mountaineer, Waynesville, N.C.

Distributed by Tribune News Service.

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