When the housing market imploded, toppled and fell, in Franklin County every bit as much as throughout the state and nation, its pieces scattered.
Two local banks here disappeared, gathered up by larger regional ones, and the once robust ranks of realtors thinned considerably, some abandoning the quest altogether to sell property and others venturing into more promising pursuits.
Housing prices dropped, which put some homes in the reach of buyers, if only they could secure the resources to purchase them.
On Saturday, at a workshop hosted by the community land trust, grown from seeds sown by the Friends of the Public Library’s youth program, and held at the realtors association’s offices, buyers in search of home ownership got answers to their questions.
The workshop brought together all the important players in the game being played out now in a changing housing market.
“Basically the market is doing well,” said Gloria Salinard, director of the realtors association that serves Franklin and Gulf counties, out of offices in a repurposed Avenue E building that succeeded where Dr. Photis Nichols long treated patients.
“Inventory is down. The market has stabilized,” she said. “Cash sales are up, and there are a lot less foreclosures in the inventory.”
Since cash sales are the trademark of well-heeled investors, and not the average lower and middle income household hoping for a doable 30-year mortgage, Salinard’s conference room bustled Saturday with representatives of affordable housing help.
Amber Lowry, mortgage loan officer with Centennial Bank, was there, along with fellow staffers Brenda Ash and Joan Buckner, to handle banking questions and other private sector loan matters. Michael Ubias was there, a loan specialist from the USDA office of rural development, in Marianna, to talk about the low interest loan program for low income people.
Lowry said the bank works with a range of options from FHA to Veterans Administration, even with some products by USDA. The bank’s interest rate varies, but are at historically low levels. Government issuers typically offer a fixed rate loan, which Ubias said has been running in the neighborhood of 4.25 percent for a 30-year mortgage.
Ubias said his office has not had a lot of activity in the county over the past five years, no more than you can count on the fingers of one hand. The Quincy office closed five years ago.
The terms can be 33-years with a USDA loan, and more flexible, but “credit standards are fairly consistent with what a lending institution would require,” Ubias said.
He said the major advantage is that low income people can qualify for a subsidy, and perhaps receive payment assistance, to meet the terms of their loan. He said it’s a no money down program, with federal funding tied to the Farm Bill now pending in Congress.
Loans are not available to buy used mobile homes, although some money is available to repair mobile homes.
Randall Webster, representing the Franklin County Community Development and Land Trust Corporation, said the land trust’s original hope, to buy lots and work to keep the land value constant to keep the opportunity affordable, has evolved to where now they work mainly to finance existing homes.
“We still have a lot inventory,” he said. “About 24 quarter-acre lots, most donated by Apalachicola and Carrabelle.”
Steve Watkins serves as president of the land trust, with Cliff Butler as treasurer, the Rev. John Sink as secretary and Ella Bond and Lori Switzer both on the board.
Webster said the land trust can work to pre-qualify people for loans, with credit history being the number one stumbling block to getting people into a home.
“These are correctible. We can get some plan to straighten it out,” he said. “We want them to look at homes they can afford. We want to get them to be in the right price range.”
Bond was there for Habitat for Humanity, and said the group is finishing its fourth home in Eastpoint, and has a fifth one under construction, also in Eastpoint.
Switzer was there to share for the county’s SHIP program, which has money available to rehabbing existing homes and for down payment assistance for buyers. A representative of Butler Insurance was there as well.
“It’s a really good cooperative spirit,” said Webster. “I have hope.”
Carol Barfield, who helped get these home ownership workshops started with the TIGERS youth program she oversees, said she was pleased with day.
“We actually worked with over 16 families and they all left encouraged and some with grins on their faces,” said Barfield. “I like this kind of stuff, helping people to achieve their goals.”