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Fort Jackson, South Carolina – Life, Liberty, & Lore

Categories: Uncategorized | Posted: February 22, 2013

by Tom Poland
February 20, 2013

One night talking to a stranger in a tavern so far South it’s not Southern at all, he asked me where I lived.

“Columbia, South Carolina,” I replied.

“Went through basic training there,” he said. “Fort Jackson. It’s the hottest place I’ve been. Hell on Earth.”

The guy had street cred. He lived in Florida’s belly, close to Orlando. He wasn’t far from the truth either. Heat rains down on Fort Jackson, and mugginess steams up from ancient sands. Too far from the Atlantic to catch sea breezes and too flat to enjoy alpine air, Columbia bakes.

Motorists passing through miss the heat a lot more. Columbia, South Carolina, is one of but ten cities with three interstates threaded through it. Heading south, I-77 flirts with Columbia’s eastern edge. This stretch of interstate sits midway between New York City and Miami; just to their east sits the country’s largest basic training center, Fort Jackson.

The famous and the unknown, the driven and drifters, have bonded at Fort Jackson with singular purpose: preserving freedom. Fort Jackson trains half the country’s soldiers in basic combat training, about 45,000 a year. This coming together of men, women, and machines in peace and war makes a fort a breeding ground for history. While the fort’s mainstream history—key dates and events—are documented, the colorful fragments and minutiae hidden in the fort’s great heap of days require a bit of effort.

I find myself drumming up clichés … Bugle calls at sunrise, synchronized boots, the crumpled concussions of artillery, and drill instructors barking out commands. Think of a bustling military establishment, and you don’t envision old family cemeteries, archeological sites, endangered species, time capsules, TIME magazine, and tragedies and plagues. Yet all these are part of Fort Jackson’s fabric. You’d never give the flagpole at headquarters’ much thought. A gift from New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, it stood at the 1938 World’s Fair in New York City. And that is but one jewel of the life, liberty, and lore flowing from this ancient-but-militarized seabed.

Karma attends the land where the fort sits, a sandy region of old river deposits and primordial ocean floor. The porous, absorbent soil here does not change into mud after heavy rain, a good thing. Once part of Colonel Wade Hampton’s estate, the land, it seems, was destined for military use and fated to bear Andrew Jackson’s name to whom Hampton was an aide at the Battle of New Orleans.

1916 … a cold January rain falls as military and civilian planners climb a sandy knoll overlooking pineland six miles east of Columbia. The planners’ mission is crucial to the War Department: evaluating a site for a US Army training center. The site is good, and the Columbia Chamber of Commerce raises $59,000 to turn the Hampton Estate over to the government.

On June 2, 1917, a new Army training center was established to train fighting men in the early, ominous days of World War I. This installation would become the largest and most active of its kind in the world. Hardaway Contracting Company of Columbus, Georgia, won the award to build the Sixth National Army Cantonment, to be named Camp Jackson. In six months, Hardaway built a city of 1,519 buildings that included theaters, stores, kitchens, barracks, officers’ quarters, training facilities, stables, warehouses, garages, an airfield, roads, bridges, railroads, a reservoir and water lines, sewers, wells, heating plants, and a laundry. Overnight, Camp Jackson changed from a sandy, pine and scrub oak forest to a thriving Army training center, complete with a trolley line and10,000 men. Two years later, Camp Jackson would boast the country’s largest government-operated laundry.


On 21 November 1917, a meningitis epidemic broke out. By December 11, 12 persons had died and the camp’s labor force deserted en masse. Troops worked tirelessly in subfreezing temperatures to finish essential work. Then influenza struck. By the time the plague ran its course, 300 had died. On the morning of May 10, 1918, three cars of a troop train left the tracks as it started across the trestle where the railroad entered Camp Jackson. Nine soldiers died.


Corporal Freddie Stowers of Sandy Spring, South Carolina, the grandson of a slave, was the only black Medal of Honor recipient from World War I. Two bursts from German machineguns hit Stowers as he led a battered squadron in an assault on Côte 188, a tall, heavily defended hill overlooking a farm near Ardeuil, France.

Some men achieved fame for their civilian accomplishments. One hot night, two lieutenants, Briton Hadden and Henry Luce, walked back to their barrack discussing “a paper” they would found. They wanted to dispel some of the ignorance they saw in many of their fellow recruits. From that discussion came TIME magazine.

The early years saw growth and accomplishment, the end of World War I, and then nothing. Camp Jackson was abandoned April 25, 1922 pursuant to General Orders No. 33, War Department. The roads disintegrated, and pine and scrub oaks reclaimed the ancient seabed.

In November 1939, Hitler’s Blitzkrieg swept across Europe. In July 1940, Camp Jackson became Fort Jackson and trespass rights were acquired on 265,000 acres in Richland, Fairfield, and Kershaw Counties for military maneuvers. It was the largest block of property ever handled in one single transaction in South Carolina at the time. Of the 2,000 landowners, 1,300 lived in Richland County.

Men poured into the fort and tanks arrived. A half million Americans received some part of their training at Fort Jackson during World War II. Some men blazed their way into history as members of the 4th Division, one of the first to hit the beaches of France. Many were boys who grew into men at Fort Jackson. Sixty-three years after World War II, you cannot stand in a World War II barrack and not be humbled. The wood flooring of Building 4408 seems beleaguered. It’s worn. Armies literally passed over these original pine floors, up at reveille to form up.

A Ghostly Presence

For those within earshot of the fort, the sounds of men forming up have long floated through early morning air. James Dickey described fort mornings for Esquire in 1981. “The dock from which I sight the noon and the moon is on the west bank of a famed lake on the other side of which is Fort Jackson, a basic training installation which is among the largest in the world. With daybreak each day comes the sound of firing, of voices marching in unison, of bugles, of militaristic hymns, as though coming from a ghostly takeover army waiting for the day.”

The soldiers marching in unison, learning warfare and takoever are a major part of history, and celebrities and world leaders have rightfully come to pay homage to them. Betty Grable, Life cover girl, came. So did Bob Hope. On June 24, 1942, Winston Churchill stepped from a train at Fort Jackson. Watching the thousands of recruits undergoing training, Mr. Churchill said “they’re just like money in the bank.” General Jimmy Doolittle came to Fort Jackson in 1992 and 1993. President Roosevelt twice visited the fort. President George W. Bush delivered a 20-minute speech, opening his remarks with a loud “hooah,” that familiar Army sentiment conveying “can do” or “good job.”

A Blend Of Old & New

The fort’s training techniques and equipment are the latest. Still, you can’t change history without the past having a firm hold on you. There’s a relic—what looks like a huge stone on a sturdy pedestal near the fort’s museum. It’s a remnant of the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen—the last standing span over the Rhine during World War II. Said General Eisenhower, “the bridge is worth its weight in gold.”

American soldiers captured the bridge March 7, 1945, and the psychological advantage of having crossed the Rhine in force in pursuit of fleeing Wehrmacht troops bolstered Allied forces’ morale while destroying the Germans’. On March 17, 1945 the bridge collapsed, killing twenty-eight American soldiers. The chunk at the fort museum weighs 900 pounds, worth $6,500,000 today according to Eisenhower’s quote.

The fort conducts operations on many fronts. Its Environmental & Natural Resources Division manages more than 50,000 acres of forest, endangered plant species, and habitat for the red cockaded woodpecker. It oversees old family cemeteries and several archeological sites.

A time capsule lies at the foot of the Jackson Statue at the fort’s main entrance. Eight years from now, the capsule will be opened. The contents should prove insightful as to how fast time passes. In the early years, horses were common at the fort. In fact, about 800 horses stampeded and destroyed a number of themselves. Today, the fort is holding hydrogen power trials as the nation looks to lessen it dependence on the horsepower oil provides.

Today’s fort is a hustling, bustling place, and yet it maintains a sharp focus on its mission: training 50 percent of all new Army personnel, as well as all Army drill sergeants, all the chaplains in the Armed Forces, and certain Navy personnel.

Fort Jackson is a far-flung, complex institution that far transcends what was envisioned for Camp Jackson. Those planners who stood atop a sandy knoll back in 1916 would be amazed to see what they wrought.
Perhaps some of you trained there. Perhaps you, too, feel it is Hell on earth, the hottest place around. Perhaps you trained with friends here who are no longer with us. Perhaps you harbor emotions not so easily explained. A fort is always attended by a multitude of perhaps …

One thing is certain. Fort Jackson remains the only army base in the United States within a city, and a hot city it is come summer—the kind of city where you can train an army for most anything. Vietnam, the Middle East, most anywhere. Many motorists speeding along I-77 won’t know that, however, unless they happen to spot the signs, unless they went through basic training here. They, then, will remember those days.

They will recall that this is the place where “at daybreak each day comes the sound of firing, of voices marching in unison, of bugles, of militaristic hymns, as though coming from a ghostly takeover army waiting for the day.”

Tom Poland is the author of six books and more than 700 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. The University of South Carolina Press just released his book on how the blues became the shag, Save The Last Dance For Me. He writes a weekly column for newspapers in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture.

S.C. home sales up in January 2013

Categories: Uncategorized | Posted: February 19, 2013

Staff Report
Published Feb. 18, 2013

Pending sales of residential properties in South Carolina climbed 21.8% in January compared with the same month in 2012 while median sales price budged just 0.3% to $145,000, according to the S.C. Realtors Association.

The Columbia-based organization, which tracks residential properties, added that new listings in the state rose 1.5% to 8,859 dwellings.

The number of sales that closed in January rose 17.1% in a year-over-year comparison while the number of days a home was on the market dropped 9.3% to 129 days compared with 143 days for January 2012.

Among the state’s metro areas, Columbia recorded the largest increase for the month in the sales of residential homes, condos and villas, the association said.

Columbia sales jumped 23.3% to 524 homes in January compared with 425 units for the same month in 2012. However, the median price for the market dropped 8.4% to $132,200 from $144,250 in January 2012, and the average number of days a home was on the market increased 4.5% to 116.

The Greenville market recorded a 17.6% increase in sales for January with 502 homes compared with 427 units for the same month in 2012. Median home prices in Greenville rose 1.5% to $146,580, while the average number of days on the market dropped 6.6% to 98.

In the Charleston trident market, sales rose 15.9% to 634 homes in January while the median price rose 2.2% to $182,500. Charleston recorded one of the heftiest drops in the number of days a home was on the market, falling 23.1% to 89 days.

Only two markets in the state — Hilton Head Island and Western Upstate — recorded a drop in home sales for January. The Hilton Head area declined 0.9% to 218 homes while Western Upstate dropped 1.2% to 166 units.

In the Midlands, the Sumter/Clarendon market saw sales increase 23.9% to 83 homes while the Southern Midlands — mainly Orangeburg County — recorded a 30.8% increase for the month to 17 homes.

The Hilton Head area remained the most expensive market with the median price rising 2.8% to $245,500, while the Southern Midlands market had the lowest median price at $79,950.

Looking ahead, the association noted that while interest rates are edging higher in some regions of the state, prices are relatively stable.

2013 Midlands area home sales start 2013 strong

Categories: Uncategorized | Posted: February 16, 2013

The Midlands is off to a strong start in 2013 with more homes selling and the number of homes on the market returning to more normal levels. Some key highlights from the S.C. Realtors January report:
What it is: Increase in home sales in Columbia in January, compared with the same month last year.
How it compares: At 524 homes sold for the month, that’s nearly 100 more than January last year and nearly 175 more than sold in January 2011.
What it means: This solidifies the real estate recovery in the region in a month that typically is slow on sales leading into the traditional spring selling season. After a dismal 2011, the yearly increase in 2012 was 17 percent.
What it is: Increase in the number of pending sales – homes that are under contract but have not yet closed – in the Columbia area in January, compared with January 2012.
How it compares: At 707 homes pending closing, that’s about 175 more than this time last year and 275 more than this time in 2011.
What it means: Strong pending sales are an indicator that future months will have big sales gains because many of those sales that are pending now will closed by then.
What it is: Median sales price for all homes that sold in the Midlands in January
How it compares: That’s 8.4 percent below the median price in January 2012, which was $144,250.
What it means: The drop could be an indication that sellers are dropping their asking prices to get rid of homes that have been sitting on the market or that they need to sell quickly. It also could mean sales have picked up for homes in the lowest price ranges. It’s the lowest monthly median price since March 2011.
What it is: The months supply of inventory on the Columbia market in January.
How it compares: It’s a 25 percent drop from January 2012, when the market had more than a year’s supply of homes for sale. The supply level peaked in April 2011 with a 16.6-month supply.
What it means: The sharp drop in inventory brings the market back toward a level playing field for buyers and sellers in what has been a buyers’ market for years. Once the number hits about six months, the market will be considered balanced.
What’s hot now?
The hottest home sales categories for January in the Columbia area included:
• Homes in the $100,000 and below and $200,001 to $300,000 price ranges
• Homes with two or fewer bedrooms and four bedrooms or more
• Condos and single-family homes
S.C. stats
Home sales
Jan. 2012: 2,950
Jan. 2013: 3,454
Change: +17%
Median price
Jan. 2012: $145,000
Jan. 2013: $145,500
Change: +.3%
Of note: Only two areas had small home sales declines, including the Hilton Head Island area and the western Upstate. Seven out of 16 regions in the state saw declines in median sales price. Faring worst was Cherokee County.

Read more here:

2013 Housing Market Trends: What Will Be Different Than 2012

Categories: Uncategorized | Posted: February 9, 2013

By Jed Kolko, Trulia Chief Economist

One year ago, I wrote: “Even the best possible 2012 won’t get us halfway back toward normal.” That turns out to be true, but barely: the latest Trulia Housing Barometer, for October, showed us that the market is 47 percent back to normal. And this year, we launched the Trulia Price Monitor — which revealed back in March that asking prices were on the rise — one of the earliest indicators of the home-price recovery. All in all, the housing market enters 2013 with strong tailwinds, but that could change.

OUT: Will Home Prices Bottom? IN: Will Inventories Bottom?

The big question this year was whether home prices had finally hit bottom. We now know the answer is a resounding “yes.” Every major index shows asking and sales prices rising in 2012.

The key question in 2013, though, is whether prices will rise enough so that for-sale inventory — which has fallen 43 percent nationally since the summer of 2010 — will hit bottom and start expanding again. The sharp decline in inventory was a necessary correction to the oversupply of homes after the bubble, but now inventory is below normal levels and holding back sales, particularly in California and the rest of the West.

Gallery: Real Estate 2012: The Year Housing Finally Bounced Back

Rising prices should lead to more inventory for two reasons: 1) rising prices encourage new construction, and 2) rising prices encourage some homeowners to sell. The big question for 2013 is whether today’s price gains will continue strongly enough to encourage builders to build and homeowners to sell.

Why it matters: More inventory will lead to more sales and give buyers more homes to choose from.

OUT: Robo-signing Settlement; IN: New Mortgage Rules

In February 2012, 49 states and five large banks agreed to the $25 billion robo-signing settlement, which funds loan modifications, compensations and other programs. It was intended, in part, to punish banks for their foreclosure practices, but wrongfully foreclosed-upon consumers received very little money and some states have diverted their settlement funds from housing toward other purposes.

In 2013, the big housing-policy drama will be trying to prevent a future housing crisis rather than dealing with the last one. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will announce new mortgage rules in January to define which mortgages are judged to be beyond a borrower’s ability to repay and would therefore trigger legal and financial implications for lenders. These rules will need to strike a delicate balance between protecting consumers from the types of high-risk loans that contributed to the last crisis and giving lenders the incentive to expand mortgage credit.

Why it matters: New mortgage rules will determine whether mortgage credit remains tight or finally starts to become more available to people who want to buy a home.

OUT: Improving Housing Affordability; IN: Declining Housing Affordability

The huge price declines before 2012 and record-low mortgage rates in 2012 have made owning a home 45 percent cheaper than renting, according to the Summer 2012 Trulia Rent vs. Buy report. In fact, homeownership is more affordable than renting in even the priciest markets — such as Honolulu and New York — even without the tax breaks for homeowners.

However, now that home prices are rising faster than rents in most of the largest markets, the affordability tide is starting to turn. Furthermore, prices and rents are rising in many expensive markets, such as San Francisco, Miami and Seattle, reducing affordability for everyone. Rising mortgage rates, which consumers and forecasters expect next year as the economy strengthens, would also reduce affordability in 2013.

Why it matters: Worsening affordability will put homeownership out of reach for more households — especially in the most expensive markets.

OUT: Expanding Refinancing to Stimulate the Economy; IN: Cutting the Mortgage Interest Deduction to Fix the Budget

You might be asking, how does expanding refinancing relate to cutting the mortgage interest deduction? Both are housing policies under debate that aim to serve broader economic goals. Refinancing helps stimulate the economy because it gives homeowners more spending money, one of President Obama’s priorities in 2012. Cutting the mortgage interest deduction, which costs the federal government more than $100 billion annually in revenue, would help narrow the federal budget deficit — and the top economic priority in 2013 is dealing with the federal budget without wrecking the economy (think “fiscal cliff”).

Both Democrats and Republicans are considering a cut in the mortgage interest deduction, either through capping overall deductions, lowering the rate at which deductions are taken or converting the deduction into a credit.

Why it matters: Reducing the mortgage interest deduction would make homeownership more expensive, which would reduce home values, especially in high-cost housing markets.

OUT: National Housing Policy; IN: ‘Localized’ Housing Policy

There are plenty of national housing issues to deal with, such as the new mortgage rules (see above) and the future of housing giants Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration. But many critical housing issues are local and therefore only fixable by city or state governments.

Foreclosures are no longer a national problem: the foreclosure inventory is concentrated in states with a slower, “judicial” foreclosure process — such as Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York — where some are calling for state-level foreclosure reform. Affordability isn’t a national problem either, but it’s a severe local challenge in San Francisco, New York and other big, coastal cities, often aggravated by rules that limit new housing construction.

Even some national policies, like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s guarantee fees and conforming loan limits, are “localized”: They vary geographically to reflect differences in state legal processes or housing prices. It’s a sign of recovery and return to normalcy that the national housing crisis is becoming a range of diverse, localized housing challenges.

Why it matters: Housing policy will be more tailored to local issues, and less constrained by political gridlock in Washington — so long as cities and states rise to the challenge.

Jed Kolko is the chief economist for online listing site Trulia. This article was originally published on the Trulia Trends blog.

Midlands home builders see gains in 2012

Categories: Uncategorized | Posted: January 17, 2013

Staff Report
Published Jan. 16, 2013

Most of the top homebuilders in the Midlands chalked up major increases in the number of homes built in 2012, with Mungo Homes leading the pack with an 84% increase, to 518 homes built in 2012 from 281 homes built in 2011.

Positive factors
Economist Joseph Von Nessen cited factors that will continue to be positive for home sales in South Carolina.

Pent-up demand. In 2007, the growth in household formation was 1.3%. It dropped to 0.7% between 2008 and 2011. The members of these would-be households have been having trouble finding jobs. As new jobs are created, they will eventually buy homes.
House price appreciation is South Carolina continues to get stronger. The Federal Housing Finance Agency recently reported the third consecutive quarter of appreciation in South Carolina. Greenville has now shown appreciation for the first time since 2007. The current year-over-year increase may also signal that consumers are becoming less price sensitive.
The biggest single-year gain in home prices has come in the last 12 months.
Competition from existing home sales on price alone should ebb, as homeowners grow more willing to lower prices on homes they have lived in for many years, especially if they are facing a job-related relocation.

In a year-end report on 2012 building activity, data supplied by the Home Builders Association of Greater Columbia showed that the region’s biggest builders substantially increased their activity last year.
But a chart of the top 20 builders in the region shows that six of those builders actually built fewer homes last year than they did in 2011.

Two of the top 20 builders, however, built no homes in 2011, but rebounded in 2012: CF Evans & Co. Construction built 46 homes, while JJ&Z Builders built 14 homes.

Joseph Von Nessen, an economist with Resh Marketing Inc., said in the report that while recent trends have been tough on South Carolina homebuilders, there are signs of an improving outlook.

“Since 2009, the bulk of our recovery has come in the non-summer months,” Von Nessen said. “One can easily see this by looking at the unemployment rates, which has tended to rise in the summer months and fall in the spring and fall. Housing is seasonal, with the bulk of sales activity coming in the summer.”

Because the housing sector has not yet fully rebounded in South Carolina, Von Nessen said, the growth that would otherwise occur in the summer is not happening. As a result, the state has seen relatively low amounts of economic growth in the summer since the economic crisis in 2008.

He cited factors, however, that will continue to be positive for home sales including pent-up demand, strengthening of home price appreciation and the ebb of competition from existing home sales on price.

Home-building recovery taking hold in Columbia S.C. area

Categories: Uncategorized | Posted: January 15, 2013


Goodbye, Great Recession.
Hello, housing recovery.
After years of stagnation, Midlands builders are gearing up to finish neighborhoods that sat half-full for five years as the Great Recession and its aftereffects raged. They also are building new neighborhoods in hot spots throughout the region.
But home buyers will benefit from a “super-competitive environment” among builders that promises to heat up in Columbia in 2013.
“There’s only one thing that matters to the new home buyer today, and that’s price,” said Wade McGuinn, owner of McGuinn Homes in Lexington. “But once they settle on the price, they want everything. … It’s whoever can give it to you.”
Builders are planning to give buyers whatever they want this year – from central vacuums in $150,000 houses to a pick-your-own amenities list – as they build on their success in 2012 and the Columbia real estate market starts to bounce back.
From small, family-owned operations like McGuinn Homes to large national companies like D.R. Horton, builders are bullish on the Midlands market this year.
“They feel good about the Columbia market going forward,” said Earl McLeod, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Greater Columbia. “We would certainly agree. We feel better about it than we have in the past few years.”
And home buyers can expect the stiff competition to make sales to bring them better deals and more extras in a market where they already are in the driver’s seat.
“They’re going to shop ’til they drop to make sure they get the best $141,000 they can get” if that’s their price point, McGuinn said. “A luxury buyer now wants a value, and a value buyer wants a better value.”
‘Goal is to be … No. 1’
D.R. Horton is one of the builders expanding in the Midlands, buying hundreds of lots in the Columbia market.
From Cobblestone Park in Blythewood to Eagle’s Rest in Chapin, the builder is entering at least a half-dozen neighborhoods with prices ranging from $150,000 to $500,000 and above.
“As we see a good value, we purchase (lots),” said Doug Brown, president for the company’s Charlotte-Columbia division. “We think it’s a good market.”
The national builder took out permits to build 93 homes in the Columbia market in 2012, according to a permit report from the Home Builders Association of Greater Columbia. That ranked it seventh in local market share.
“Our goal is to be the No. 1 builder in the Columbia market,” Brown said. “We do want to be the best-value and the best-quality home builder in the Columbia market.”
Horton faces stiff competition, from a range of other builders boosting their construction. Permits for new homes in the Midlands rose 25 percent last year from 2011, one of the worst years on record for real estate in Columbia.
Mungo Homes, currently the top builder in the market, took out 518 permits for new homes last year, up from 281 in 2011 – an 84 percent increase.
McGuinn Homes, fifth in market share, took out 186 permits, a 75 percent increase over 2011. Wade McGuinn says he plans to grow his company by at least another 25 percent this year with development spreading from his stronghold in Lexington to Southeast Columbia, Kershaw County, Northeast Richland and the Dutch Fork area.
And Fortress Builders, started in 2010 by Bill Sinnett and Tim Kearn, took out 92 permits in 2012 – a 119 percent increase over 2011.
“We’re getting pretty aggressive,” said Sinnett, who expects to grow another 40 percent this year.
Once idle, now busy
Sinnett cited Hunter’s Run in Blythewood, where several companies are building homes, as an indication of the upswing in new construction.
The neighborhood – where prices range from the $190,000s to the $280,000s – had been sitting idle for close to seven years, he said.
“We were one of the first builders in there” in 2012, Sinnett said. “And we’ve done really well.”
Fortress also is building in Chapin and Lexington, and will build a new neighborhood of its own on Langford Road in Blythewood this year with more than 100 lots and prices ranging from the $170,000s to the $250,000s.
Being tenacious and coming up with innovative products are the ways to be competitive in the marketplace, Sinnett said.
All of Fortress’ homes come with central vacuums, a feature previously reserved for $300,000-plus homes, Sinnett said. “We’re putting it in a $150,000 house.”
Buyers also now are getting premium features, such as hardwood floors and crown molding, in lower-priced homes, he said.
Coupled with interest rates that have been historically low for at least a year, “the best time to buy a house is now because it’s not going to get much better,” Sinnett said.
‘Mom and pop … just gone’
A recovery in the housing market would be a big boost to the local economy. Home building is labor intensive. But home building creates jobs in other areas as well — from lending to attorneys’ fees to furniture and appliance sales.
Builders, however, will face challenges in the years ahead – from tighter lending rules for lot development to the slowly growing economy – that could end up narrowing options for home buyers.
“We are, technically, out of lots in Columbia,” McGuinn said. “It creates a whole other layer of financial difficulty. There are not going to be people out there building lots for builders” like there were in the boom days of the local housing market from 2004 through 2007.
The scarcity of new subdivisions means small builders – many of whom already have exited the market – will have to have their own funding to build lots because lenders still see real estate development as too much of a risk, McGuinn said.
“The barrier to being in our business has gotten so high,” he said. “Every day, (it) gets higher.”
Large banks, for example, will not lend less than $10 million to builders and even regional banks set the minimum at $4 million, McGuinn said. That refusal to make smaller loans will push out smaller builders, who lack their own financing, he said.
“The mom-and-pop operation is just gone,” he said.
‘Not a boom’
In 2006, the Top 12 builders in the Midlands all took out more than 100 permits each. In 2012, only the Top Six builders did.
The struggling economy also will be a factor in the recovery, McLeod said.
While the jobless rate in South Carolina has been declining steadily in recent months, it still is an elevated 8.3 percent and many still are struggling to find work. Still, the rate is down significantly from its peak of 12 percent in late 2009. And as more people have found work, they have jumped on ultra-low interest rate and good deals on homes.
Sales for all homes in the Columbia area rose to 6,990 through the first 11 months of 2012, up 18 percent compared to the same period in 2011, according to the S.C. Realtors trade group.
But some are still hesitant as the national economy wobbles unsteadily.
“We thought the looming fiscal cliff would be resolved, and it’s only, in many ways, been delayed so that still is a big question mark going forward in terms of the housing recovery,” McLeod said.
While Congress and the White House reached an agreement to avoid tax increases that would have kicked in at the beginning of the year, they delayed decisions on massive spending cuts.
“Put that aside … and the conditions are in place for a continued recovery, not a boom-type environment but certainly a steady increase,” McLeod said.

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Mortgage Rates: Improved Housing Markets Grow While Mortgage Rates Remain Low

Categories: Uncategorized | Posted: January 8, 2013

The number of improved housing markets continues to grow while, at the same time, mortgage rates remain low. According to the National Association of Home Builders/First American Improving Markets Index (IMI), the number of metropolitan areas rose for the fifth straight month in January. The IMI rose from 201 markets in December to 242 in January. The IMI is a record of metro areas where there has been improvement in housing permits, employment and home prices for a period of at least six consecutive months. For those interested in purchasing homes, this is also a positive sign of improving economic factors that in different areas across the entire country.

Current 30 year fixed mortgage interest rates are as low as 3.125%, 15 year fixed mortgage rates are as low as 2.375% and 5/1 ARM loan rates are as low as 2.375%. When looking for low mortgage rates, it is important that borrowers have a record of good credit. Lenders will also require documents to prove employment, income and assets. Assets are necessary as evidence of enough funds for the closing, as well as, reserves required for loan approval. At any time during the loan process, borrowers may be requested to submit additional information in order to clarify something found upon examination. These are normal procedures when purchasing a home or refinancing with conventional loans. The HARP program, a temporary non-traditional refinance, does not require as much information or an appraisal in most cases. HARP mortgages are available for underwater borrowers who have loans that were sold to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac prior to June 1, 2009. The updated HARP program, called HARP 2.0, has eliminated loan to value caps so that all underwater homeowners could have a chance at refinancing to low mortgage rates or shorter term loans. HARP can be obtained through any lender making it easier for homeowners to find one that will work with them. Submitting the online form can make this process simple and will return a response almost instantly. Through this submission, borrowers can obtain information about any type of mortgage or refinance, including HARP refis.

Today’s FHA 30 year fixed mortgage rates are as low as 3.000%, FHA 15 year fixed mortgage interest rates are as low as 2.750% and FHA 5/1 loan rates are as low as 2.500%. Home buyers often use FHA loans because they offer one of the lowest down payments available in the mortgage industry. The credit guidelines for FHA are also flexible so that even borrowers who do not have perfect credit can become homeowners. FHA also offers several types of mortgages, the use of gift funds and housing grants or loans, all of which can make the mortgage process more affordable. While FHA closing costs (APR) are high due to the upfront mortgage insurance premium and other FHA fees, FHA does allow seller concessions up to 6% to be used for this purpose. In some cases and according to FHA guidelines, closing costs can often be added to the mortgage amount. After having the FHA for a period of time, FHA offers the FHA streamline refinance with no cash out. This streamline program does not require an appraisal, a credit history or other documentation, although lender overlays may vary. Until the end of 2013, homeowners who have loans that were FHA endorsed prior to June 1, 2009 can use the FHA streamline to refinance and will receive drastically reduced fees for the upfront and annual mortgage premiums. All FHA loans, including the FHA streamline refinance, can be obtained by any FHA approved lender.

New home sales climb to highest rate since April 2010

Categories: Uncategorized | Posted: December 31, 2012

New single-family home sales accelerated in November to the fastest pace in 2 1/2 years and median sales price jumped from the same month in 2011, signs that the U.S. housing recovery is gaining some steam.

The Commerce Department said on Thursday sales climbed 4.4 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted 377,000-unit annual rate. That was in line with analysts’ forecasts of a 378,000-unit annual pace.

Government data for new home sales are subject to substantial revisions. Indeed, the Commerce Department cut its estimate for sales in October by 7,000 to a 361,000-unit rate.

The annual sales pace for November was the quickest since April 2010.

This year, the housing sector has been point of strength in an economy beset by flagging business confidence and cooling demand abroad. The median home price of a new home rose to $246,200, up 14.9 percent from the same month in 2011.

New home building is expected to add to economic growth this year for the first time since 2005. The housing sector, however, remains a shadow of its former self.

The pace of new home sales is roughly a quarter of the all-time high clocked in July 2005 when a housing bubble was still inflating. Shortly thereafter, the bubble began to deflate, helping trigger the 2007-09 recession, which was the deepest downturn since the Great Depression.

Home sales rise in Columbia, SC

Categories: Uncategorized | Posted: November 19, 2012

COLUMBIA, SC The housing market is making a comeback in Columbia as sales rise and inventories shrink. But there are some roadblocks that could keep it from rebounding quickly.
Home building permits and sales of new and used homes in the Midlands soared in October, putting the area on pace for its best year since 2008 – just before the Great Recession caused home sales to plunge, along with the broader economy.
But before the celebration begins, a couple of major hurdles – including the federal government’s looming “fiscal cliff” and lending for small builders – must be resolved, said Earl McLeod, executive director for the Home Builders Association of Greater Columbia.
“We’re ready to buy the champagne, but we’re not ready to pop the top,” he said.

Signs that the market is in full recovery mode include:
• Builders took out 234 permits for new homes in October in the Midlands. That is a 40 percent jump from last year and the most new permits through the first 10 months of the year since the same period in 2008, according to a new report from the home builders association.
• Home sales spiked 30 percent in the Columbia area as the inventory of homes on the market slipped to 11 months – nearing a more normal market after peaking in the spring of 2011 at 16.5 months, according to a report Wednesday from the S.C. Realtors trade group. That virtually ties with 2009 – when the housing market was propped up by an $8,000 federal tax credit for first-time home buyers – as the best first 10 months of the year since 2008. Statewide, sales jumped 24 percent and inventory shrank to 10 months.
• Pending sales – in which a contract has been signed but the sale has not been completed – jumped 42 percent in October in the Columbia area. That suggests those sales will close in the coming months, meaning the area should see a strong finish to the year after a dismal 2011.
Russell & Jeffcoat Real Estate – the largest real estate firm based in the Midlands, which represents a range of builders – saw its October sales jump 37 percent, said Ron Roe, the company’s chief executive officer.
“It was the best October we have had in probably seven years,” he said.
Builder incentives had a lot to do with the increase in sales, Russell & Jeffcoat broker Len Ross said. Some builders in the area are paying closing costs for buyers in the $300,000 and above range, he said. And some are touting energy efficient green construction, he said.
The competition with new construction also has caused home sellers to get real on pricing, Ross said.
“I think we’ve seen a change in sellers’ attitudes over the past six months in getting real with their prices, and so they’re getting more competitive,” he said.
That is reflected in the median price of homes sold in the area in October, which was down 6 percent to $139,500 in October. Statewide, the median price remained fairly steady at $149,900.
Homes priced in the $200,001-$300,000 price range sold best in October, according to the report, followed closely by homes in the $100,000 and under range. Homes selling for $300,000 or more performed worst.
“The trend is good,” McLeod said. But, “there are some big question marks remaining. The major question mark, not only for home building but for all businesses, is what happens with the fiscal cliff.”
In January, $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts to the federal budget – known as the fiscal cliff – will kick in if Congress and President Obama do not reach a spending compromise. Some economists predict that could plunge the country back into recession.
That could stymie the housing recovery and hurt small businesses, such as home builders, McLeod said. Smaller builders already are hurting from strict lending standards that are keeping them from building new homes, he said.
But larger regional and national builders are starting to fill out neighborhoods that were left half built during the economic downturn, he said.
And Irmo’s Mungo Homes said it plans to start building new neighborhoods in the Midlands in the coming year on land the company bought seven years ago and never developed, said Steven Mungo, chief executive officer.
“We’re spending a lot of time on planning for tracts that we’ve owned for quite a while that we’ve just had on the shelf,” he said.
It all adds up to a promising 2013, Russell & Jeffcoat’s Roe said.
“What we are seeing now is – we all predict – a real strong demand for new homes during spring and summer of 2013,” Roe said. “The future for the Columbia real estate market is really bright right now.”

SC Real Estate Market Showing Signs Of Upswing

Categories: Uncategorized | Posted: November 2, 2012

Columbia, SC (WLTX) — A report from the South Carolina Realtors Association comparing year-to-year numbers show there is positive movement in the SC market.

Comparing September of 2011 with September of this year:

New Listings Are Up 0.5%
Median Sales Prices Are Up 4.3%
Pending Sales Are Up 14.6%
Inventory Levels Drop 13.9%
Days On Market Drop 11.3%

All the numbers taken together demonstrate the state real estate market is showing positive signs: more people are selling and buying houses, there is a bit less inventory that then is pushing prices higher, and homes are staying for sale on the market a shorter period of time prior to purchase.