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The value of real estate sales in Hamilton County jumped nearly 14% last year to top $3 billion for the first time, according to conveyances filed with the Hamilton County Register of Deeds.

In a report on calendar 2019 delivered to the Hamilton County Commission Wednesday, Register of Deeds Marc Gravitt said the number of mortgages and other property conveyances filed with the county continued a decade-long increase even as the value of properties also rose.

"Hamilton County's real estate market continues to increase as shown by the number and value of the documents filed in our office," Gravitt said.

The Register of Deeds records 98 different types of documents and last year the total number of such documents filed in Hamilton County was up 6.9% to 62,259, Gravitt said.

The new year is starting equally strong, Gravitt told county commissioners. In the first two weeks of 2020, the Hamilton County Register of Deeds recorded more than $94 million in transactions and over $177 million in mortgages.

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Hamilton County Register of Deeds Marc Gravitt / File photo

Most of the property sales involved home purchases. Chattanooga Realtors ended 2019 with strong sales up 29% from December 2018, according to a report released this week by the Greater Chattanooga Realtors association.

"I think 2019 was a great year," said Brandi Pearl Thompson, president of Greater Chattanooga Realtors. "Overall, there was a strong market and, combined with relatively low mortgage rates and continued strong job growth, we see the market continuing to improve."

In December, the Greater Chattanooga Realtors reported that the median home price of homes sold was up 10.3% from a year earlier, rising to $215,000.

Over the past decade, the number of home sales nearly doubled and the average sales price of homes sold by Realtors in the Chattanooga area rose by more than 50% from just over $156,000 in 2010 to $237,000 at the end of 2019, Thompson said.

The average home in Chattanooga sold last month in 50 days. A decade ago, Thompson said the typical home took 11.1 months to sell.

"That's a very strong indication of a growing and vibrant market," she said.

With improved sales at higher prices, Gravitt said his office collected more in conveyance and mortgage taxes last year. Such fees are set by the state and generated $11.2 million in conveyance taxes, up over 13% from 2018, and $4.3 million in Deed of Trust or mortgage fees, up over 28% from the previous year.

A growing share of all deeds are now filed online, Gravitt said. E-filings of documents were up 41% last year in Hamilton County.

Gravitt's said he used a share of the fees collected by his office to run his 15-employee office, but he remitted more than $1.2 million to Hamilton County's general fund.

Although Hamilton County's register of deeds generates a surplus, Gravitt said about half the county offices in Tennessee do no and require county taxpayer appropriations to operate. The Tennessee Registers Association is pushing legislation to allow local register of deeds to keep a bigger share of the state fees they collect in order to avoid having to cost local county governments money to operate.

Gravitt, a former state legislator who was elected as county register of deeds in 2018, said he is pushing for registers to keep up to 5% of their fees for their own office operations to help smaller counties not have to use county funds to pay for register offices.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.

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