By Rose L. Thayer
Killeen Daily Herald
As the latest census numbers show, Bell County is growing rapidly. While Texas' population grew by 20 percent since 2000, Bell County exceeded that, adding 30 percent to its population.
Such growth means the area real estate market is changing and expanding to meet changing needs.
The majority of new construction has been south of U.S. Highway 190 and east of State Highway 201, all the way to Interstate 35. Copperas Cove also has seen some growth north and west, where a new bypass road is being built.
"That's just where the land is," said Scott Shine, the sales manager at Shine Team Realtors in Harker Heights. "It can't go north in Killeen. Growth has to go down the (State Highway) 195 corridor into south Killeen."
Shine said that the market has recently taken an encouraging turn, both in new home sales and existing home sales.
Michael DeHart, executive officer of the Fort Hood Area Association of Realtors, said that the highest demand in the market is for one-story, single family homes under $200,000, and that a buyer's price range typically determines whether they will purchase a new or used home.
In 2005, home sales in Central Texas hit their peak of more than 5,000 homes sold before falling sharply, according to data from the Fort Hood Area and Belton-Temple Associations of Realtors.
"I look at 2005 as being an abnormal year," Shine said.
He prefers to look at 2004, when about 2,800 home were sold, as an indicator of where the market is going.
Now, the market is starting to see positive recovery, with each year since 2005 higher than 2004 numbers. "This year, at the rate we are going right now, sales will be close to 2010 and maybe slightly higher."
In 2010, around 3,500 homes were sold in Central Texas, even though March sales were down slightly from the same time last year.
DeHart said it's not just the growth of population, but also in jobs and new commercial construction that make him excited about the future real estate market.
He said the $534 million Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center project at Fort Hood and the Texas A&M University-Central Texas will create jobs in construction, supplies and sustainment, in addition to staffing once they are open.
"These are two huge projects," DeHart said. "There's a brighter light at the end of the tunnel."
Another indicator of a strengthening real estate market is that the margin between a seller's asking price and a buyer's offer is narrowing, Shine said. Sellers are getting more than 95 percent of their asking price at the time of sale.
"This shows we have a strong foundation," Shine said, especially when compared to places like Phoenix, Ariz., or Florida, where sellers are getting about 50 percent of what they are asking for (their) homes.
"In this area we see a lot of stability in asking prices being in line with what people will pay," Shine said. "It shows the market has very strong footing."
Right now, Shine said inventory numbers are really high to prepare for the high summer sales season, creating an extreme buyers market in some of the higher price ranges.
Contact Rose L. Thayer at email@example.com or (254) 501-7463. Follow her on Twitter at KDHreporter.
Homebuyer tax credit
Members of the military and certain other federal employees who served outside the U.S. between Jan. 1, 2009, and April 30, 2010, may have an extra year to buy a home and qualify for the $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit that expired last year. The eligible taxpayer must buy, or enter into a binding contract to buy, a principal residence on or before April 30. If a binding contract is entered into by that date, the taxpayer has until June 30 to close on the purchase. For more information, go to www.irs.gov.