For the first time in 18 months, the city can boast that it has fewer than 500 vacant homes. As of the end of June — the last numbers available — the city had 495 vacant homes. The last time the number dropped below 500 was Dec. 31, 2010, when there were 337 vacant homes. A month later the number had risen to 577 vacant homes and it has stayed above the 500 threshold ever since, even eclipsing 600 during July and August of last year.
“One of the indicators that I look at each month for the city is the number of vacant homes,” City Manager Larry Wood said. “This is the first time we have been below 500 in 18 months and I like the trend.”
It was recently reported that Carroll County was third in the state in the number of foreclosures, but Wood said the city’s numbers show the trend heading the other way in Villa Rica.
“It kept going up and now it’s been declining for a pretty good period,” he said. “When we get rid of that inventory of vacant homes then we should start to see new construction again.”
Though the lower number of vacant homes is a sign that foreclosures are selling at a faster clip, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the construction industry is going to rise out of the ashes anytime soon.
“I do feel like we are clearing out a lot of our foreclosures because I think the banks or the lenders that have foreclosed are becoming a little more receptive to maybe lowering the prices of some just to get them out of the inventory,” said JoAnn Herrell of Westberry Realty. “However, I do believe we will still have a lot of foreclosures to come. I don’t think we’re through with them and there will be a good bit more single-family residences, along with commercial properties, that will be foreclosed on before we’re done.”
Not only are home values of foreclosed homes seemingly dropping so that they don’t sit on the market too long, Herrell said foreclosed vacant lots are selling for less than 10 percent of what they once sold for in some instances. For example, lots that were once selling for between $15,000 and $30,000 per lot are now selling for as little as $1,500 to $3,000 per lot in some of the nicer subdivisions to encourage building.
Until the inventory of vacant homes drops to nearly nothing, mass waves of new construction like was experienced in the city before the economy collapsed will not occur again. Even then, it may never get to the levels it was once when the city was cycling through more than 600 new building permits a year.
Herrell, who received her real estate license in 1972, said she’s seen bad times — such as during the Jimmy Carter administration when homes were being sold with interest rates as high as 20 percent — but she’s never seen the market as bad as it is right now.
“I’m basically an optimistic person, and I know we’re going to get over this crunch sometime. We just have to change our lifestyle, but I hope it won’t been as long as it has been,” she said. “During the Carter administration it lasted awhile and it hurt, but it was nothing compared to this, which devastated the communities in general, homeowners and families, and the loss of jobs. It’s just been a heartache and a burden for everybody.”