James Charles Patterson has seen a lot of booms, bubbles and busts in the Texas real estate market through the years, but never has he seen anything like this.
The semiretired real estate agent, who owned businesses in Greenville and Hunt County for most of the last 45 years, said the current real estate market in the county is unlike anything he’s ever seen. What he’s seeing is a mix of the low inventory of existing homes and a booming new housing market, especially in Caddo Mills.
“It’s mind-boggling the new homes that are being constructed,” Patterson said. “That’s where you’re seeing the bulk of the overall housing activity.”
Across the county, production builders are moving into Hunt County like never before, but there’s also a crush of demand for existing homes driven by several factors, including what many believe is a reaction to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mandy Stewart, a real estate agent with ReMax 3D Realty, listed a home and before she could even begin the marketing process she had 13 showings lined up for this weekend. The data points are pretty clear — just look at any of the real estate websites.
On Zillow, there are 45 single-family homes listed in Greenville. That’s at any price. Want something affordable? Say, under $250,000? That list is narrowed down to just 30 properties. Over at Realtor.com, the true situation is a little bit more clear because you can filter pending sales from the total number of listings.
Across Hunt County, there are 342 homes listed on the Realtor.com website, but just 120 of those are active. Cynics say this is a bubble, but others say the coronavirus pandemic has played a role in driving interest.
Speaking of interest, record low rates on borrowing have also helped fuel this boom.
In fact, if you ask builders Larry and Scott Ellis that question they are nearly harmonious when answering the question about what’s driving demand. “Interest rates,” the men say.
“Interest rates are the key factor,” Larry Ellis said. “They are driving this. When I got my first home loan it was 8.5%. Guess what? It is not 8.5% no more.”
Patterson and the Ellises agree that the fallout from the pandemic is driving some of this movement, especially for those who may have had to work from home over the last year.
“We are seeing two motivations for moving — people who want to get out some huge city, and those who during the pandemic were allowed to work from home,” Patterson said.
For builders like the Ellises, they can’t build them fast enough. The family-owned Scott Ellis Homes has already sold out of its Ellis Farms properties and is fast-approaching a sellout of the first three phases of Stonewood Estates, where homes start at $239,000.
“The demand is high,” Scott Ellis said. “People are willing to wait five-to-six months for a home so they can get a house they want.”
Scott Ellis’ business is moving so fast that he doesn’t even have a model home to show buyers, and that it’s not untypical to see as many as 20 potential buyers driving through the neighborhood, just off Centerpoint Lane. Eventually, they will build a model at an entrance off of Traders Road, but right now word-of-mouth seems to be driving the buyers.
“The product we have does not exist in Greenville,” Scott Ellis said of his development, which features a range of models starting at 1,600 square feet and working up to homes with 2,800 square feet. “We have larger lot sizes and we work with our buyers to customize their homes.”
At this point, a buyer from out of the market can purchase a top-of-line Ellis home for $380,000 — a steal compared to the Dallas area.
“It’s never been like this,” Larry Ellis said of the hot demand. “This is amazing. What’s going on right now, we’ve never had this.”
Hunt County’s building activity all but collapsed in the wake of the Great Recession — a story that was told over and over across the country. In 2012, the city of Greenville saw just 26 building permits for single-family homes, according to data from the Texas A&M Real Estate Center. In 2020, amid the pandemic, housing starts have topped more than 300 in Greenville — alone. The 2019 numbers for Hunt County, according to the data, were a record.
Steve Methven, the city’s development director, said more than 300 single-family building permits were issued in 2020 — also a record.
“My hope for the future would be to see more of the larger style homes and am happy to say we are working on one of those right now,” Methven said. “We are certainly in the market for new retail and industrial as this brings more people to live and shop in our city.”
On Tuesday night, the Greenville City Council approved projects that will create an additional 250 housing units by rezoning two pieces of property along Farm-to-Market Road 1570 in southwest Greenville.
Even before the approval of the homes, Methven was almost giddy as he presented the initial rezoning request to the planning and zoning commission, and as he explains it those projects will lead to others because both builders will expand utilities to that area, including water and sewer lines.
“Because of the distances they must go it opens up more development of vacant land that did not have these utilities, it is certainly a win-win for the city of Greenville,” Methven said.
The Ellises will build out Stonewood Estates in the coming years with more than 200 additional homes, but they’re also planning another large-scale project dubbed Ellis Estates in the city limits that will bring another 200 homes to the market.
And after that?
Well, Methven, Scott Ellis, Larry Ellis and others are bullish.
“As you can see the pandemic did not slow Greenville down as far as building permits were concerned,” Methven said. “We are always looking for new housing developments to start, as many people are moving in our direction. My hope for the future would be to see more of the larger style homes and am happy to say we are working on one of those right now.”