published Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Chattanooga: Local real estate agents compare downturns

by Jason Reynolds

Two veteran Chattanooga area real estate agents disagree on the severity of the current market compared to previous economic downturns, but both agree sales will bounce back.

“After 50 years, I’ve been through several slowdowns, and in my opinion this has not affected us in Chattanooga as much as the one did in the late 1970s and early ’80s when Jimmy Carter was president,” said Elgin Smith of Prudential RealtyCenter.

Interest rates back then were up to 17 percent, he said, versus less than 5 percent now.

Loye Hamilton, a 30-year real estate agent, said the recession is his third and the worst he has seen.

“The length of time is longer than what it normally was,” said Mr. Hamilton, broker of Coldwell Banker Commercial Hamilton & Associates in Cleveland, Tenn. “The market was good. Then we went into the recession.”

Both Mr. Smith and Mr. Hamilton said they expect the market to turn around, with hard work by agents and an increase in consumer confidence.

Mr. Hamilton’s daughter, Alison, runs Coldwell Hamilton’s residential sales division. The real estate slowdown has forced out some unproductive agents, which is good for the industry and for buyers and sellers, the 15-year veteran said.

“It leaves room for people who are experienced real estate advisers,” she said.

Sales volume today is about what it was 10 years ago, she said. The average sales price in Cleveland now is $145,000, versus $105,000 10 years ago.

“The challenges we’re having now are because there was such a real estate boom,” Ms. Hamilton said.

Jim King of Crye-Leike Realtors entered the real estate market 5 1/2 years ago, he said. President Obama has said the economy will get worse before it gets better, and people are waiting for signs of a rebound before buying a house, Mr. King said.

“Today, people do not know what tomorrow will bring,” he said. “But in Chattanooga, VW is going to curb that.”

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