Military keeps home sales going

Clarksville, Tenn., which is near the Fort Campbell military base, saw the average sales price for single-family homes increase about 6 percent in the second quarter. Clarksville, Tenn., which is near the Fort Campbell military base, saw the average sales price for single-family homes increase about 6 percent in the second quarter. (Mark Humphrey/Associated Press)
Associated Press / November 12, 2008
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CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - Sometimes Tim Wells felt like the only man left on his street.

Thousands of soldiers were deployed out of Fort Campbell, Ky., just a few miles away, and homes in Wells's subdivision were sitting empty. But a few months later the soldiers began to return and, one by one, the homes were quickly purchased.

"They all started selling, boom-boom-boom, right down the line, as people rotated in," said Wells, who was a civilian contractor working on the base.

While overall home prices and sales are down, there are pockets in the United States doing well. Among them are military towns dominated by big bases, helped by steady wartime employment and by more moderate increases in values.

The Associated Press reviewed housing data in four states with big bases and found nearby communities fared better than national averages. Some towns have even seen average home prices rise.

Even where prices are down, the bases still help provide plenty of people looking to buy. In the Florida Panhandle, where a saturated housing market saw sluggish sales last year, soldiers at Eglin Air Force Base said the downturn has made it easier for them to purchase homes in an area where demand is bolstered by Gulf Coast beaches.

Air Force Staff Sergeant Samual Dickerson and his wife moved to the area four years ago. They thought about buying a home then but the prices were high and few homes were available.

That changed with the downturn that saw the median home sales price in the county around Eglin fall 7 percent in the second quarter to $232,000.

The AP looked at sales figures from selected smaller communities near large bases in the Southeast, which has a major military presence, and in North Dakota, away from the balmier climates that might attract new residents.

In the case of Clarksville, the largest city near the sprawling Army post that straddles the Tennessee-Kentucky line, more than 30,000 soldiers assigned to the base rotate in and out regularly.

Average home prices in the United States fell a record 4.8 percent in the second quarter compared with a year ago, according to the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight.

But in Clarksville, the average sales prices for single-family homes increased about 6 percent, from $139,065 to $147,460 in the second quarter, according to the Clarksville Association of Realtors.

Military communities haven't totally avoided the problems in the housing market, and on average it's taking longer for home sellers to find a buyer. In Clarksville, homes sat on the market for an average of 96 days in the second quarter compared with 65 days a year ago.

In Fayetteville, N.C., a city of about 168,000 outside of Fort Bragg, sale prices are down slightly this year for new homes but higher for the larger stock of existing homes. For the year through Sept. 30 the average price for an existing home was up 5.2 percent to $130,355 from a year earlier while new home prices were down 1.7 percent to $204,910.

While other markets tanked after homeowners took subprime loans that they couldn't afford, active and retired members of the military can use private loans guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The market in some military communities likely will pick up soon, too, though at the expense of others. Some bases are expecting additional troops through a militarywide base closure and realignment plan.

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