Published 1:48 am Sunday, October 2, 2011
Six years ago, Scott Campbell discovered Washington by boat.
After his introductory cruise on the Pamlico River, he fell in love with the town’s atmosphere, its historic charm.
Campbell was in.
He bought a building next to the Washington Daily News’ offices on Market Street.
The real-estate broker now lives in his building.
From his downtown perch, he sees the slumping market with bird’s-eye vision.
Yes, sales are down, he acknowledges.
Yes, a number of homeowners aren’t profiting from the sales of their properties, he adds.
But the news isn’t all bad.
“The real-estate market is still a market,” he said. “We’re still alive. We’re still selling things. We’re still buying things.”
Campbell ushered buyers toward closings on three properties last week, and he expects to oversee closure on two more in the next two weeks.
“This is not a gloom-and-doom thing,” asserted Campbell, a recently elected member of the Beaufort County Board of Realtors.
“Things have changed from what people were used to, but it’s not the end of the world,” the Realtor observed.
There are pitfalls for the seller, though, and the pragmatic Campbell doesn’t shy away from tours of the valley.
“The market’s particularly price sensitive right now in that there’s a fairly large inventory so … if you’re a seller, there’s a lot of competition, generally,” he said. “So really, if you need to sell within a short time frame — which nowadays means anywhere between six and nine months — you need to really price the house right.”
In the near term, look for an increase in “short sales” — sales in which the buyer gets less out of a house than he or she put into it.
“We’re going to see that for a while,” Campbell warned. “Most people who purchased property in the prior seven years roughly are not going to see their property’s market value, maybe, what they paid for it. They’re going to be what they call upside down.”
Short sales aren’t confined to high- or low-end properties, but they are scattered broadly across the county, he related. Some short-sellers could end up owing a remaining $3,000 or $30,000 or more on their mortgages, depending on what they paid for their homes, he said.
And foreclosures — down nationally from a year ago — will continue to be a local factor, Campbell forecast.
Still, all those empty or for-sale houses might come in handy one day.
“I think one of the strengths of our community is we have a really diverse housing stock,” Campbell said, pointing to waterfront communities such as Cypress Landing and Pamlico Plantation and to nonwaterfront neighborhoods like Smallwood and Macswoods.
“We have a really great, diverse housing stock, so that’s going to help us a lot” once the economy recovers, Campbell said.
“Good news for the future, but, in the meantime, we’re going to putter along for a while,” he concluded.
Public records illustrate this puttering.
Countywide, commercial and residential building permits aren’t on pace to match last year’s numbers.
Officials do say rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Irene could cause an uptick in permitting toward the end of the year.
But they aren’t seeing properties change hands at a high rate in the Beaufort County tax assessor’s office.
Bobby Parker, county tax administrator, has been on the job for almost 19 years. He’s never seen a slump this big.
“It’s flat or down,” he said of the county’s growth. “I don’t see anything increasing yet.”
Each week, Parker’s office is noting two to three “good sales,” involving willing buyers and sellers. Several years ago, it wasn’t unusual for his staff to see 1,200 to 1,500 property transfers in a 365-day period.
Many homes that are changing hands have higher assessed values — what the county thinks they’re worth for tax purposes — than market values, or what the buyer is willing to pay for them.
“It seems like everything has really slowed down,” Parker said.
On the plus side, by August U.S. foreclosures had declined 33 percent from one year prior, but were up 7 percent over July, according to RealtyTrac, which markets properties that have fallen prey to foreclosures.
There will still be ups and downs for who knows how long, but real estate isn’t a moribund field, even if it’s on life support.
“Today I’m closing on a historic-district house, next week a commercial property,” Campbell said Friday. “So, again, the market’s still active and varied.”