Home & Garden

Q&A with Doug Bridges, Coldwell Banker Agent

Longtime real estate agent in Northeast Richland with Coldwell Banker United, Realtors

How have the federal government's tax credits for home buyers affected the local market?

"The tax credits combined with ridiculously low interest rates, there's no doubt that that stimulated the market. I see that kind of flourishing through spring. That was sorely needed."

But the stimulus has not affected high-end properties. "They're going to continue to struggle. Any sale over $400,000 is unusual."

Bridges said people are adjusting to smaller, less expensive homes as the state struggles with the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the nation.

What do you see happening in the local market in 2010?

It depends on jobs and interest rates.

"Our state will have to do something with unemployment. As long as we have that, it's hard to make the rest of it work."

Bridges said the construction and development business accounts for 21 percent of Columbia's economy. "That's enormous. That industry has really taken a hit. That hurts the entire economy."

He said when jobs for framers, brick masons and roofers go away, the money they would have earned is stripped from the local economy, and it has a ripple effect.

Whether those jobs come back depends a lot on whether people keep buying homes.

Home sales have gotten a big boost from the tax credits, but about the time they are running out next spring, interest rates are likely to start rising because the government will stop buying mortgages. That could create another dip in sales.

How has the real estate industry changed in Columbia in the past year?

"We may have had kind of a cleansing of the real estate and mortgage business," Bridges said.

He said he did an analysis a couple of years ago, as the market peaked, and there was one real estate agent for every 14 people in South Carolina. He figures the number of agents has been reduced at least 25 percent as agents move into other professions.

"We've had a little bit of a weeding out. The professionalism and the standards of the industry have increased." Real estate agents and mortgage bankers are "more respected by the public now."