The Curles family of Brunswick was in an interesting conundrum last June when they sold their home in northern Glynn County.
Lori Curles, a 27-year-old elementary school teacher, had recently married her wife, Alicia Curles, and the couple needed more space for their three daughters, two cats and their dog, Maxwell.
“We were actually a pretty funny story, because we didn’t want to sell our house until we found a new house,” Lori Curles said. “But my previous house sold in 24 hours. Unfortunately, that put us in limbo-land for two months. We tried to push back the closing, but the buyers wanted to have it earlier. So, we were in between our new house being finished, and the other one selling.”
For two months, the couple rented a place while their new home — a single-story with four-bedrooms — was built.
Their situation isn’t uncommon in Glynn County. A lack of affordable housing has the existing stock flying off the proverbial shelves, real estate data shows. On average, a property stayed on the market for about 92 days in June 2017, when the Curles bought their current home. That number is down 19 percent compared to the year prior. And in December, data provided by the Golden Isles Association of Realtors showed four ZIP codes in Glynn County — 31520, 31522, 31523 and 31525 — had just six months worth of housing supply. That’s down a striking 37 percent from a year before.
For the Curles family, the quick sale of their home posed a challenge as they jockeyed against other buyers to find a home in their price range, around $145,000. The median household income in Glynn County in 2016 was about $46,000 annually. Mortgage lenders recommend homebuyers borrow a maximum of about three times their annual income when financing a home. That puts the sweet spot for home pricing in Glynn County at about $140,000.
But in December of last year, the median sale price of a home in the four ZIP codes listed above was $190,000. So when homes go on the market for between $120,000 and $160,000, buyers are snatching them up quicker than they’re coming on the market, data shows. In fact, sellers last December got, on average, 95 percent of their asking price, and it’s been consistently that high since at least December 2016.
It took the Curles some time to find a suitable home, Lori Curles said. The couple looked at fixer-uppers, “but even the terrible fixer-uppers that needed $40,000 or $50,000 worth of work would be sold within a day or two, and they’d have three or four offers on them because everyone had the same idea,” Curles said. “Our biggest struggle was not necessarily finding a house, it was the fact that the other one sold so quickly because there was such a shortage.”
“There just aren’t many affordable houses on the market right now,” Lori Curles’ wife, Alicia Curles, noted.
In fact, a ranking by the economics arm of the insurance firm Nationwide ranked the Brunswick area as one of the least affordable housing markets in America in the last quarter of 2017.
Of 400 metropolitan statistical areas surveyed, Brunswick was 399th in affordability, with Rapid City, S.D., ranking 400th, according to the Leading Index of Healthy Housing Markets. The most affordable was Waterloo-Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Essentially, “the largest declines all had one common trait: reduced affordability as home price gains outpace income growth,” the report states. The study looked at employment, demographics, mortgages and home prices to rank the statistical areas. The Brunswick Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), a U.S. Census zone, does include Sea Island, where home prices are frequently in the multimillions. That could have the effect of skewing the Brunswick MSA’s ranking and making home prices look less affordable than they actually are on the mainland and in more middle-class neighborhoods.
Jay Kaufman, president of the Golden Isles Association of Realtors, sees a turn-around in Glynn County’s housing market and said as home prices continue to rebound from the Great Recession, more housing stock will come online.
“I think the inventory of that price range ($120,000-$180,000) is increasing,” he said. “That inventory is increasing on a daily basis, mostly because developers are out there getting back to work.”
He said as homebuyers quickly scoop up newly constructed and existing homes, that keeps capital moving through the economy, enabling builders to build more homes.
“If a developer builds something and they have to sit on it for 200, 300 days, that ties their money up,” Kaufman said. “When that happens, they don’t have the money to do more building. Back when times were great (pre-recession), the list-to-sell ratio was 70, 75 percent. Now, it’s more of a 92, 95 percent ratio. That short time on the market keeps money flowing better so builders can build and buyers can buy.”
Another factor impacting the market is foreclosures. In December 2016, there were 42 distressed properties listed in Glynn County, according to Golden Isles Association of Realtors data. A year later in December 2017, that number plummeted by 69 percent to just 13 listings.
“(Distressed properties) are basically nonexistent,” Kaufman said. “At one time, the foreclosure section of the newspaper was multiple pages. Now, it’s maybe 10 listings.”
He’s hopeful that as the economy continues to strengthen, people living in lower-priced homes will purchase more homes in the middle price-point, thereby giving lower-income people the opportunity to purchase the homes vacated.
Still, Alicia Curles, isn’t so optimistic.
“I don’t think it’s going to get better any time soon,” the 30-year-old homebuyer said. “We looked at the option of building, and that’s expensive, too. There are just no houses on the market that are four bedroom, and if there is, they sell quickly, or you can’t afford them.”
One thing that can improve a buyer’s chances of landing the perfect home is having the right real estate agent, Lori Curles said.
“I would definitely say we have a good real estate agent. Erin (Vaughn), I want to give her credit for making things work, because there were things that went on with the selling of my house that were contingent on the buying of this home, and that terrified me,” Lori Curles said of her real estate agent, Vaughn. “Having an agent that was 100 percent my advocate was truly, for me, very important. Make sure you have a real estate agent that is your advocate and there for you.”