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Old Posted Jan 18, 2006, 1:13 AM
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Join Date: Jul 2005
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Baton Rouge area home sales sizzle

By TIMOTHY BOONE
Advocate business writer
Published: Jan 17, 2006

The estimated 240,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees who moved into metro Baton Rouge caused home sales to surge by 28.5 percent to 11,291 sold in 2005. And local Realtors said Monday the demand for houses should remain strong through 2006. “On Jan. 2, my phone didn’t stop ringing,” said Chad Rizzutto, broker-owner of Diamond Realty Inc. in Greenwell Springs. “It hasn’t slowed up since.” Rizzutto said in the past few weeks, people who lost homes to Katrina have started to receive their insurance settlements.
“Now that they’re getting their money, these people have the cash to make a down payment and get a home,” he said.

The immediate demand for houses caused sales to spike in September 172 percent above previous-year levels, and drained much of the inventory. The market leveled off toward the end of 2005 with gains over 2004 settling in the 20 percent range, as people either returned to metro New Orleans or settled into apartments or hotels. Inventory started to rebuild.

The dollar volume of 2005 sales hit $1.86 billion, up 47 percent from the $1.26 billion volume in 2004. The average sale price of a home was $164,677, an increase of 14 percent over the $143,963 average recorded in 2004. The figures come from the Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors’ Multiple Listing Service and are as of Monday. In the past few weeks, Rizzutto and Mark Akchin, an agent with Keller Williams Realty in Baton Rouge, said they’ve seen an increased demand for homes in the $200,000-and-below range. “The sales aren’t as frantic as they were in the fall, and there’s no sense of urgency,” Akchin said. “These people are taking a little bit more time to work out a deal that’s best for their family.” Akchin said there’s no particular area where property is selling best. “It’s more about where people are finding jobs or where their children are getting into school,” he said. “If they found work downtown, they’re moving into West Baton Rouge. If they got a service-industry job along Bluebonnet Boulevard or Siegen Lane, they’re looking at Sherwood or Broadmoor.” Rizzutto said the rural areas of East Baton Rouge are also popular. “I specialize in the Central area and houses here are selling very quick,” he said. “The average length of time one of these houses is on the market is 14 days.”

Hank Saurage IV, broker/owner of Saurage Realtors in Baton Rouge, said West Baton Rouge and Ascension are the two parishes that are likely to see the most activity this year.

West Baton Rouge is popular because of the prices. “You can see a house on the ground there for under $160,000,” he said. Ascension remains popular because of the schools and the proximity to New Orleans, Saurage said.
There were 2,044 houses sold in Ascension Parish last year, a nearly 40 percent increase over 2004, according to the Realtors. The average sale price was $182,282, up almost 10 percent over the year before.

The largest number of houses were sold in East Baton Rouge Parish. There were 6,916 homes sold in East Baton Rouge during the year, an increase of almost 27 percent over 2004. The total sales volume was $1.16 billion.

In Livingston Parish, annual sales increased by nearly 25 percent to 1,690 houses sold. The average sales price was $136,728, compared with $121,808 for 2004.

In the other category, which includes West Baton Rouge, East and West Feliciana, Iberville and Pointe Coupee parishes, there were 641 houses sold. That was a 25.4 percent increase over 2004, when 511 homes were sold by Realtors in those areas.

Before Katrina, Saurage said, projections indicated the local housing market would level off at the end of 2005, because of the lack of large-scale hiring.
“It’s a totally different environment now,” he said. “What’s still unknown is how many residents will we keep here permanently and what will be the makeup of the people who do stay — who are they going to be? Where are they going to fit in the work force?’ Rizzutto said he expects home sales will remain strong until the end of 2006. “I feel for sure this activity will carry us through to the spring and summer,” he said. “And those are our two biggest times of the year, when school is out.”
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