Location, Location

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Savannah’s Realtors are selling the good life—and we’re buying.  Annabelle Carr asks the Empire’s eponymous experts for their hottest tips and sweetest deals.

Remember the days of house-flipping and easy lending, when “dream homes” were a dime a dozen and ownership was as American as freedom and the flag?  That bubble may have burst, but, now that we have our feet back on the ground, the consensus is that things are looking up in the Coastal Empire.

“It’s a combination of factors,” Lori Judge of Judge Realty explains.  “Foreclosures have slowed down in the past few years.  Prices have been going up gradually.  Buyers, sellers and lenders are becoming more confident.  And now, as the Fed slows down its stimulus money, interest rates are starting to creep up.  That’s getting a lot of people off the sidelines.  Now is the time to buy.”

And buy we are—at the high and low ends of the market.

“We sold the home of Robert Duffy (CEO of Marc Jacobs) for $1.985 million and we’re seeing deep water closings at $2.2 million,” Elaine Seabolt of Seabolt Brokers enthuses.  “And anything under $300,000 flies off the shelves.  The tougher sales are in the $400,000 to $800,000 range because it’s more difficult to get financing.”

Judge has seen recent sales climb to 90 percent of the asking price—up from 80 percent just a few months ago—and that’s a good sign of consumer confidence.

“Everybody’s getting better at pricing,” she laughs.  “For a while during the Recession, property values were falling so quickly it was hard to tell how to price things.”

Seabolt agrees.

“I think we’ve seen prices stabilizing in Savannah, and there’s been more activity based on that,” she explains.  “We’re seeing fewer low offers on homes that are priced correctly.”

This confidence is freeing us up to make the moves we’ve been contemplating for years.

“Empty nesters are sending the kids off to school and trading in their big Wilmington Island homes and yards for the Historic District experience,” Judge observes.  “Growing families are expanding into larger homes.  Life choices that were preempted by the Recession are finally feasible again.”

Shopping Around

So how can you get in on this game of musical chairs before mounting interest rates grind the tune to a halt?

“If you’re a first-time buyer,” Seabolt urges, “go to a lender immediately and find out exactly how much you qualify for.  You don’t want to find the perfect home only to learn that it’s in the wrong price range.”

If lending is no object and you’re in the market for a retirement home or second home, make community your focus.

“The Historic District gives you pied a terre with minimal (landscaping) upkeep,” Seabolt explains.  “We also have ‘lock-and-leave’ condos for part-time owners, and wonderful golf communities with terrific amenities.”

One such neighborhood is The Ford Plantation in Richmond Hill, where Seabolt Brokers is the new official marketing partner.  Once owned by auto magnate Henry Ford, this lush, sprawling estate boasts waterfront properties and all kinds of active pursuits.  Most important to the Savannah-phile, however, it offers contemporary comforts with historical design elements.

Dicky Mopper of Mopper-Stapen Realtors swears by a similar “old-meets-new” build on the 800 block of Whitaker Street in the Historic District.

“This home is an excellent opportunity for modern living with details that preserve the historic elements of Savannah,” he asserts.  “It won the Historic Savannah Foundation Award for New Construction, with reclaimed, antique heart-of-pine floors throughout.”

And Celia Dunn waxes poetic about a majestic waterfront home on Long Point Hammock, which promises to hold its value for years to come.

“It has water or marsh views from every window, sound system controls in every room, an elevator—and exposed wood beams from an old farmhouse,” Dunn delights.

Another of Dunn’s listings, 504 E. Bay St., overlooks the Savannah River.  Although it was built in 1860, this historic structure conceals a dramatic three-story spiral glass staircase and a modern deck with a curved glass window.

In other words, old meets new.

Making Bank

If investment is your game, “look for deals on historic homes and waterfront access,” Seabolt concurs.  “That’s what holds value.  Bank-owned properties and fixer-uppers will appreciate.”

Dunn is watching the bedroom community of Pooler, just a few miles west on U.S. 80, and Gordonston, Savannah’s oldest suburb, for growth.  Just five minutes southeast of downtown, neighborly Gordonston boasts a tree-lined variety of magnificent mansions and craftsman cottages.  And Pooler, which nearly tripled in population in the last U.S. census, is one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities.

Mopper points to properties on McDonough Street and Thomas Square that fit the bill.  They may not look like much now, but a little time and effort will tell a different story.

Judge highlights an unusual listing for her firm: a package of rental properties, fully occupied, that will generate rental revenue immediately after purchase.

“Now is not the time for house-flipping,” she cautions.  “Real estate is a five- to 10-year investment—not a two- to five-year investment.”

With that in mind, it looks like the most important investment is in our own happiness.

“I encourage people to focus on what’s right for them right now,” she explains.  “If there’s one thing the Recession taught us, it’s that we’ll go crazy if we try to predict the future.”

So what’s your next step toward “the good life?”  Is it easy boat access?  Steady income? Convenient carpooling?  Strolls in the squares?

Chances are there’s a Savannah “dream home” with your name on it.