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Real estate market changes in Bridgeport

Housing market cools off as speculative building slows down

by Torie McCloy


(September 13) If you plan on putting a house on the market in Bridgeport, get in line.

The growth trend in the city is in building, not buying, said City Development Director Randy Spellman.

Currently, 113 houses in Bridgeport are listed with the Harrison County Association of Realtors. Although that is only six more houses on the market than this time last year, realtors said the trends in both buying and building homes are changing and could affect the market.

A few years ago, when contractors heard that an FBI fingerprint facility would be located in Bridgeport, many strapped on their tool belts and started building speculative homes. That resulted in a surge in the market.

In the last year, that trend has nearly halted as some contractors found it difficult to sell the homes. Spellman said many of the FBI workers chose to live in surrounding communities, not minding 30-minute morning and evening commutes to work. Contractors had expected nearly all the workers to live in Bridgeport.

Another bad sign for the market is the calendar. Many families that just put their children back into school are not apt to make a big move -- unless it is across town, said Larry Mazza of One Valley Bank.

"The housing market has cooled off," Mazza said.

Real estate agent and developer Jack Powers said moving across town or down the street is what many of his clients are doing. Powers has switched most of his building from speculative building to patio home developments.

"We are finding people who are interested in one floor living with smaller yards," Powers said.

Mostly, its empty nesters -- those whose families have grown up and moved away. And, most are wanting to stay in the area. They just want a smaller home.

Virgie Altman of Bridgeport is an empty-nester tired of walking up unnecessary steps. She said a two-story home is no longer conducive now that her children are grown.

"I don't want what I've got," Altman said. "I don't want to go upstairs."

Spellman said 80 percent of the building permits issued in Bridgeport now are for a specific homeowner, not a developer. He said it seems as if those contractors have stepped back.

"People like the idea of a new home and having it the way they want it," Powers said.

Many developments building to fit client wants are reaching capacity. Powers' patio home lots at Shearwood Village are half filled. He also is opening a newer development called Timberbrook near Deegan Lake.

Although building is the trend, there are some good signs for those who want to put their homes up for sale in Bridgeport. Property appreciates extremely well in the developing city. Powers said it is common for a home bought for $70,000 nearly 20 years ago to be on the market for $140,000 today.

Spellman credits that to strict zoning regulations initiated in the early 1970s and followed since then. He also noted that the city has doubled in size in the last 10 years after many annexations in the early 1990s.

City workers respond to between 800 and 1,000 property concerns each year. Spellman said strict regulations make Bridgeport a good place to buy, build or live.

The average value of single-family homes in the city limits last year was $211,462.27. This year that price is expected to rise, Spellman said. The average value of 1,400 to 1,500-square feet patio homes ranges from $135,000 to $145,000.

But Powers warns not to over price homes or they may not sell.

"The best suggestion is to make sure you are competitive on the price," he said. "You have to have the value."

The biggest help for homeowners hoping to sell is interest rates. Interest rates are the lowest they have been in 30 years.

"Right now is a great time to buy, a great time to build," Mazza said.

Interest rates for 30-year mortgages are seven percent and below seven percent for 15-year mortgages.

As to whether it is cheaper to buy or build, Mazza said it depends on the market.

If the number of homes on the market is low, prices tend to increase and it makes building cheaper. With many homes on the market, prices often drop and buying could become the cheaper route.