Area boasts active real estate market

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 9, 2005

Natchez real estate is on the move. Young families are opting for bigger houses; newcomers are buying downtown buildings and residences; commercial property is under development on the north and south sides of town.

An active, healthy real estate market sends a message about the community’s economy, real estate brokers and others in the industry said.

Realtor Janice Easom of Paul G. Green and Associates said the pace has left her breathless. &uot;It blows my mind,&uot; she said. &uot;I closed out $8 million last year, the best year I’ve ever had. I’m working 12 to 14 hours a day and need another day in the week.&uot;

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Lower interest rates have made a huge difference for property buyers, Easom said. &uot;People are moving out of an apartment and into a house. There are first-time buyers and those who are buying up to larger houses,&uot; she said. &uot;And retirees and other people from out of town are moving here to buy property. It’s unbelievable.&uot;

Ren Ware of United Mississippi Bank said attractive mortgage rates are keeping financial institutions busy. &uot;People are purchasing and refinancing. The rates are excellent, and people are taking advantage of them.&uot;

Jerod Welch and his wife, Sarah Beth, recently moved from their Eastwood Road home to Hummingbird Lane with their young son.

&uot;We started talking about it in December,&uot; Welch, owner of Cellular Plus, said. &uot;Interest rates had started to drop. We had a new son. We needed more space.&uot;

They left the home where they had lived for three years and moved into a home that was not only larger but also newer, he said. &uot;It was an upgrade for us.&uot;

Welch said he felt lucky they had found the house in the price range they wanted. &uot;There were a lot of houses above the price we wanted and a lot of houses below. We found a house quickly.&uot;

Indeed, the Welches were lucky, real estate agents agreed. &uot;If we find houses between $75,000 to $150,000, they won’t stay on the market a week, sometimes a day, said Sue Stedman of Prudential Stedman and Associates. &uot;And we’re out of space practically inside the city limits to build medium-priced houses. There is no space to build another Westover, Hills or Trees subdivision.&uot;

Furthermore, construction costs are high, making many development companies leery of building houses in median price ranges.

Still, sales of existing houses are running the gamut, from houses in the $40,000 range to mansions that sell for more than $1 million.

Stedman said the strong real estate market reveals an economy that has surprised many people, especially those who thought Natchez would collapse after the close of International Paper’s Natchez mill in the summer of 2003.

&uot;I think our economy is more diversified than we gave it credit for. We were all waiting for the other shoe to fall, but it hasn’t fallen quite as hard as we thought,&uot; she said.

Stedman saw a significant increase in sales at her company in 2003 to 2004 and finds it continuing into 2005.

&uot;We obviously have had a pent-up demand for property, and the low interest rates have made buying attractive,&uot; she said. &uot;There is a renewed interest in historic property, but really people are buying everything. Recreational land is strong, and commercial property sales have picked up some.&uot;

New residents make impact

Next week, Janice Easom will meet with a buyer from California. &uot;He is looking for a slower pace of living,&uot; Easom, said.

&uot;And another man from Florida just bought four lots in Beau Pre.&uot;

Buyers she sees &uot;like the river town. They love the history. And they think we’re giving real estate away.&uot;

Stedman has had clients who see a property on a Web site, call for more photographs and information to be e-mailed and make decisions based on that material. &uot;Some have bought property sight unseen.&uot;

Stedman and others in the real estate sector said newcomers are having a big impact on the market. She sees that continuing. &uot;The thing that seems to be driving it is that they want to get away from the congestion in big cities,&uot; Stedman said. &uot;They want to be somewhere where it’s not crazy all the time.&uot;

The slower pace is attractive, but the overall ambience of the town also is bringing in the new property owners, said Mimi Miller, director of preservation and education for the Historic Natchez Foundation.

&uot;We encounter people all the time who are looking at a historic building or house or have bought one and want information about the history or preservation of the building,&uot; she said. &uot;Initially, we had people coming to purchase weekend homes. Now people are coming to buy houses that will be their permanent residences and people are coming to open businesses.&uot;

Buyers from Memphis, Tenn., have purchased the Geisenberger Drug Store building on Franklin Street and will use the upstairs space for an apartment and the downstairs for a gift shop featuring upscale gardening items, she said.

Another couple from Orange County, Calif., bought a North Pearl Street house and hope to open a retail business. &uot;They visited Natchez a year ago and found it beautiful and sophisticated,&uot; Miller said. &uot;They love the quality of life.&uot;

A Jackson couple is looking at a large Franklin Street building with an eye to living upstairs and opening a restaurant downstairs.

A New Jersey couple bought a home on South Rankin, also after having come to Natchez for a visit, Miller said. &uot;They fell in love with Natchez, and a friend of theirs also has moved to Natchez and bought a house.&uot;

Miller said newcomers love &uot;the character of the town, how it looks. They see it as unique, something that can’t be duplicated, and they think the property is going to be very, very valuable in the future.&uot;

Real estate appraiser Butch Stewart of Coldwell Banker Brown and Co. said retirees and younger families are finding Natchez.

&uot;Baby boomers are coming of age. This is a super place to live. As they get older, the world is getting smaller. People can fly to California to work a few days and work out of their house here the rest of the time,&uot; Stewart said.

Californians are good examples of those who see the Natchez market &045; as well as the beauty and lifestyle &045; as wildly attractive. &uot;They look at what we have for a million or half a million as compared to what that buys in California,&uot; Stewart said.

Commercial property moving

Glen Green of Paul G. Green and Associates said exciting things are happening in commercial real estate developments, as well.

Green is a successful developer of upscale residences south of Natchez. Three houses are under construction there now, and he expects a couple more of them to be started in the fall.

Recently, Green also has worked with Natchez developer Ricky Edgin of Edgin Construction Co. on two large commercial spaces.

Green sold Edgin a large tract of land in the area just south of St. Catherine Creek on U.S. 61 South. Edgin prepared the land for commercial development. Then Green worked as broker to resell the space.

Stine Lumber Co., now located further south on U.S. 61 at the former Stahlman Lumber Co. location, has purchased a large section of the newly developed property and will build there, Green said. &uot;We actually acquired a little more property at the site to meet their needs.&uot;

Green also has closed a deal with Pizza Hut for another piece of the property. Several more pieces are available, he said. &uot;It’s going to be a nice commercial development.&uot;

Next, he and Edgin are joining to develop a large piece of property on U.S. 61 North. &uot;There are 21 acres. We’re going to clean up the whole area. We have several prospects for the development,&uot; Green said.

Echoing what other brokers said, Green said the real estate market has been busy. And that is good for Natchez.

&uot;The biggest things people own are their homes and their businesses. Their net worth improves as property values increase,&uot; Green said.

Butch Stewart of Coldwell Banker said the market is healthy. &uot;Last year we sold more dollar amounts than any year in business. That means prices are going up and there are more transactions.

Downtown is special place

Stewart said the federal courthouse under construction on South Pearl Street and the new convention center at Main and Canal streets will be catalysts for further development downtown.

&uot;It’s a unique downtown. I’m very optimistic about downtown Natchez,&uot; Stewart said. &uot;A lot of people want to be in the center of things. They want to live downtown.&uot;

Green said historic properties are important in the real estate market. &uot;It’s important that people buy and restore the historic properties,&uot; he said.

Stedman said the buzz about so many empty buildings downtown is pass. &uot;When you look at downtown, you can see those buildings have a pretty bright future,&uot; she said. &uot;The federal courthouse will have a big impact; so will a hotel across the street (from the convention center). Just the construction will make a difference.&uot;

Contractors are busy. &uot;That’s a pretty good sign,&uot; Stedman said. &uot;If your contractors and real estate markets are active, that’s a pretty good sign of a healthy economy.&uot;