story by Ryan Saylor
Editor’s note: This story is a component of The Compass Report. The quarterly Compass Report is managed by The City Wire and presented by Fort Smith-based Benefit Bank. Other supporting sponsors of The Compass Report are Cox Communications and the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.
August proved to be another stellar month for home sales in the Fort Smith area, with the total value of home sold during the month increasing 32.73% over the same period last year.
Sebastian County saw the most improvement, with 140 homes sold during the month compared to only 114 sold in Aug. 2012. The total value of this year's home sales was $21.328 million, up 38.79% compared to $15.367 million during the same month last year.
Crawford County's numbers were also up, with 55 homes sold during the month compared to 44 during the same period last year. The value of last month's sales was $6.457 million, an increase of 16.01% from last August's $5.566 million month.
Owner/Broker Kevin Clifton of Kevin Clifton Real Estate in Van Buren said there were a lot of factors at play resulting in high numbers of sales in both counties.
"With the construction on (Interstate 540), it has affected home sales," he said. "Many of those (buyers who work in Fort Smith) have chosen to buy homes closer to work. It has been a problem with homes in Alma and northern Crawford County."
And while the numbers have not been as impressive in Crawford County, Clifton said recent sales in the county have been driven by two other factors - low interest rates and the possible elimination of rural development loans.
Regarding the latter, he said should Congress fail to act and not pass a farm bill by Sept. 30, home buyers in Van Buren and other towns who depend on the rural development loans will likely see a slump in home sales.
Clifton said rural development loans have made it possible for home buyers to enter the housing market with no money down and sometimes financing the closing costs into the final price of the home. Couple that with sweeteners sometimes offered by sellers eager to close a deal, such as covering closing costs if the buyer does not have those funds or chooses not to finance them, and a buyer in the market for a new home can find themselves able to buy without a down payment or closing costs, often saving them thousands.
"The interest rate is staying close to the same for all loans, so if a rate is the same for one that requires some down but another requires nothing down, most (buyers) will go for the zero down loan."
Should the rural development loan disappear, Clifton said he is still encouraged by certain signs he is seeing in his business, such as the fact that many of his buyers during the last month have been from out of state, moving to the Fort Smith area for work.
"The last three or four transactions have been out-of-state buyers," he said.
The fact that Clifton has been seeing an increase in out of state buyers should come as no surprise due to the expansion of the Sykes call center operation and the opening Monday (Sept. 16) of Health Management Associates' new regional service center, which have collectively added at least 850 jobs to the Fort Smith economy.
But while things continue to look up for regional home sales, year-to-date numbers still remain mixed as Sebastian County is up 18.81% for the first eight months of the year and Crawford County is down 16.5% for the same period.
Clifton said he and his colleagues would continue to push home sales ever higher in the Fort Smith area, including lobbying Congress to pass an extension of the Farm Bill.
"The State Association of Realtors, we're doing our part to let them know that the rural development loan is big for Crawford County buyers. And big for the sellers, as well."
Home Sales Data (January-August)
• Crawford County
Total Sales Volume
2013: $35.085 million
2012: $42.018 million
Median Sales Price
• Sebastian County
Total Sales Volume
2013: $117.562 million
2012: $98.947 million
Median Sales Price