Housing market improving in parish

Published 7:00 am Friday, February 5, 2016

David Holloway believes homeowners in Washington Parish may have a reason to feel good about their investments.

Over the last 12 months, Holloway, who is a realtor and a board member of the Northshore Association of Realtors, said the housing market in this parish is gaining. In 2014, 186 homes were sold in Washington Parish for an average price of $90,982. On average, each home stayed on the market for 118 days. In 2015, 189 homes were sold, each averaging $100,714 and each on the market for an average of 105 days.

Holloway provided the numbers, and he said the gains aren’t large, but they’re not insignificant, either.

“The increase in the average sale price is great,” he said.

Holloway explained that the value of nicer properties could be increasing at a greater rate, but the whole trend is brought down by the sale of less-than-deal homes.

“You could have some really dog sales bring the average down,” Holloway said.

But dog sales or not, he said the statistics are reasons for optimism.

“Washington Parish had had some more residential sales and the average sale price went up,” he said. “That all signals positive things for the market, that you’re selling more stuff and you’re selling it for more money in less time.”

Holloway noted that several factors could be contributing to the real estate market trend.

“I think, with mortgage rates as low as they’ve been, money is cheap and, let’s face it, you can borrow more money now than you could before because the interest rates are low,” he said.

But also, Washington Parish’s home values tend to be depressed compared to other, more affluent neighboring parishes, and this means people can afford bigger, nicer homes in this parish. This also affects the property tax rate, and the combined factors of a cheaper house with lower taxes can prove to be attractive to homeowners.

“The millages are not a whole not lower (in Washington Parish) but because the property rates are lower, the taxes are lower,” he said.

Holloway said he doubts the local trend is a fluke, as the housing market in other parishes seems to also be on the upswing.

“St. Tammany has had an increase as well in units sold and the average sale prices and days on the market,” he said. “The east side of St. Tammany Parish and Slidell was depressed for a while due to a lot of repos and delinquent properties … but the last time I checked, they’re experiencing the same kind of thing as Washington Parish, and Tangipahoa has been experiencing the same sort of thing.”

Even so, Holloway said homeowners and the cities and parishes that depend on tax revenue, should not be too optimistic. The slowdown in the oil and gas industries could have been consequences for the Louisiana economy, and that could hurt home sales.

“I have some concerns with the oil economy,” he said. “I sold four houses in Folsom alone to people who worked for Shell or Chevron last year. And had the gas been a $1.65 a gallon last March, would I have sold those same four houses to those same four people? I don’t know.

“So my concern for 2016 is a couple of things … The home sales do signal that we’re on the road to recovery, but our economy is tied to the oil and gas industry. So my concern for this year is, does the effects of what’s going on the oil and gas industry seep into the home market? And are we going to see a slowdown in sales if the Fed raises interest rates?”

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates in December by a fraction of a percent for the first time years, though the Fed may raise rates again later this year. As they raise interest rates, the cost of borrowing money increases so, Holloway worries, home loans may get thinner.

“As they raise the rates, folks can borrow less money,” he said.

But, over all, Holloway thinks the home market is improving in Washington Parish and he thinks that despite the economic threats, the future is somewhat bright.

“In my opinion, I am kind of anxiously optimistic that it doesn’t have a negative impact, but you certainly have some ingredients there that could make a recipe for a downturn,” he said.