By Carlie Kollath and Dennis Seid
TUPELO – Selling a house in the middle of a recession might be considered bad timing by some, but that hasn’t stopped home owners from trying.
And in Northeast Mississippi, real estate agents say that because the market hasn’t experienced a big boom, it isn’t having to suffer through a big bust either.
“The market has slowed a bit, but it hasn’t ground to a halt like some areas,” said Louis Riles, vice president of the Northeast Mississippi Board of Realtors.
Ken and Dana Long are confident that’s the case. They’ve had their Church Street home on the market for about two weeks, and several prospective buyers have taken a look.
The couple hosted an open house last weekend, with Crye-Leike Realtor Brenda Estes showing the home for two hours.
“Of the four who visited, three were qualified and one has expressed a very strong interest in the house,” Ken Long said.
At 4,400 square feet, the house – built in 1922 – has a rich history, having survived the 1936 tornado and having served as the Milam family home until the Longs bought it in 2000. It’s priced at under $300,000.
The Longs want to move to west Tupelo to be closer to family, and the upcoming school redistricting also has been a factor in the move.
“We’re not moving because we have to, but we’ve been talked about it for about five years, and we think now’s the time,” Ken Long said.
The Longs – and probably anyone else trying to sell a home – would love to duplicate the experience of Tommy and Rachel Ethridge.
The couple sold their Tupelo home in four days.
“We had a freak thing happen and I don’t know if that’s the norm,” Rachel Ethridge said. “I think we’re the exception to the rule.”
In fact, Rachel Ethridge said she knows her story isn’t common these days. Her in-laws have had their home on the market for two years.
According to the Northeast Mississippi Board of Realtors, a house usually stays on the market for about four months. That’s been the case for the past five years.
Help from above
Ethridge said her mother-in-law, a devout Catholic, even buried in her yard a statue of St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, families, home sellers and home buyers.
After her house stayed on the market for a while, she dug up the statue and reburied it because she wasn’t sure she had done it properly the first time.
But despite the in-laws’ experience, Rachel Ethridge said the couple decided to try selling their home in the Joyner area when they found out they were expecting a new addition to the family.
The two-bedroom, one-bath home worked for two people, but they thought it might be a tight squeeze with a child, too.
So, they started looking for homes in the $175,000-$200,000 range. The catch was they had to sell their current home to pay for the new home.
They figured the buying part would be the easier half of the process, considering the large quantity of homes on the market – about 1,300.
The Ethridges were looking for a home with at least three bedrooms and two bathrooms. They also wanted a house with a landscaped yard and in a neighborhood with kids.
After taking photo tours on the MLS Web site, Rachel Ethridge said they found a house they liked in Tupelo. It had been on the market for about six months.
The house was listed by Chanda Cossitt, an agent with Coldwell Banker Tommy Morgan Realtors, who happened to be a neighbor of the Ethridges. They called Cossitt and made an offer on the house, but made it contingent on their home selling.
“We were pretty fair with the offer because wanted him to accept it with our contingency,” she said. “We knew we’d be giving up some leeway so he’d accept.”
At that time, the Ethridges had their home for sale by owner. They had the sign in the yard for a week and received a lot of calls, but got no offers. When Cossitt said she could sell the house, the couple decided to let her try.
They listed the house on a Tuesday. Four days later, a man drove up and asked to tour the house. The Ethridges were getting ready for another showing so they directed him to the MLS site and their agent.
Twenty minutes later, Cossitt called Tommy Ethridge and said the man wanted to tour the house before the other showing. By the end of the tour, he told Cossitt he wanted to buy the house and he would pay the list price of about $120,000.
“This kind of stuff doesn’t happen to me,” Rachel Ethridge said. “I just feel really blessed and the people we sold the house to really love it so I think everyone came out a winner.”
The Ethridges moved into their new home late last month and Rachel Ethridge said she is still surprised how smoothly everything went.
“It was pretty painless, pretty easy,” she said. “You hear all this stuff on the news and I thought, ‘It’s not going to be easy to buy and sell a house,’ and it was.”
Crye-Leike’s Estes said the housing market in Northeast Mississippi dragged a bit in the last few months of 2008, but it was nowhere near the declines felt in larger metropolitan markets.
“Every situation is different, and while our market has been down, it’s been down before and picked back up,” she said. “When I started in the business in 1985, interest rates were 21 percent, so you can imagine what it was like.
“Today, it’s really important that you talk to somebody who knows the market, no matter which real estate company they work for, to find out what’s going on,” she added. “What’s going on across the country isn’t the case here.”
And for the Longs, who are getting help from a Realtor, selling their home soon would be ideal. But they aren’t desperate.
“If we sell it, fine. If not, that’s fine, too,” Ken Long said. “We’ll keep it on the market for six months and see what happens. But seeing this much interest in just this short time kind of surprised me. I think it’s a good sign.”