Twelve years after the housing bubble burst in the U.S. which set off a chain reaction of financial failure, local real estate experts reported Starkville's housing market is stable, strong and likely to remain so. According to various experts in the area, Mississippi State University is one of the primary sources of this stability.
Cindy Palmer, senior vice president of the Mortgage Lending Division at Cadence Bank and long-time resident of Starkville, said Starkville has a remarkably stable housing market.
“From my 25 to 26 years of background here, and having lived and grown up in Starkville my whole life, I would say that we have had a consistent housing market,” Palmer said. “I see people from all over the country, if not all over the world, and they tend to say the same thing. They’re used to seeing such highs and lows in the markets they’re moving from. Some of them have even said, ‘I was scared to buy a home before because I was scared I would owe more than what it would be worth by the time I would sell it.’ I have yet to ever see that happen with anybody I’ve dealt with personally.”
Palmer, an MSU alumna, sees the university as an important part of the market’s stability and strength.
“For me, MSU is definitely the main source of new business, 100%, and it has been for years,” Palmer said.
Allen Morgan, the Oktibbeha County tax assessor and collector, also thinks MSU plays a significant role in the housing market.
“The university always plays a pretty big part,” Morgan said. “A lot of times these parents will buy a house or a condo for their kids for four years.”
Besides the general boost provided by the university, Palmer identified another factor as key in driving real estate purchases: new football coaches.
“When we get a new coaching staff, that seems to put … optimism of what will happen with the upcoming football season,” Palmer said. “We’re already hearing that the excitement over the upcoming new coaches and the new football season, believe it or not, can really elevate the housing market. Not only do the coaches come in and purchase new homes … people get excited about buying a second home here again. In the past, during winning football seasons, we tend to see an elevation of property sales and values.”
Pat Lane, a realtor with Coldwell Banker who has been working in Starkville real estate for decades, chuckled when asked if she had seen an uptick in the market since Mike Leach’s hiring.
“Oh yes,” Lane said. “I have. I know you don’t believe it, but I have. We can see it.”
Palmer noted that since Starkville is a college town with high rental rates, purchasing residences is an appealing alternative to renting.
“If you’re already paying $1200, $1500 per month for a house,” Palmer said, “you might as well purchase the house instead because chances are you can get a nice home and still end up paying about the same as you would in rent. As long as you plan on being here a few years, it makes sense to buy versus rent.”
One advantage noted by both Lane and Palmer is the relatively stable real estate market here, in large part courtesy of the resident SEC school.
“We have a major university here,” Lane said. “I don’t know that I could tell that (the 2007-2009 recession) really affected the market. Maybe we had to work a little bit harder … I didn’t see a really big effect from that.”
Even when interest rates soared to as high as 19% in the early 1980s, Lane said she recalls a healthy housing market.
“People were selling their homes, (and) they were having a hard time selling their houses other places when they moved here,” Lane said. “But our market didn’t crash then. We were still selling houses, but we were having to be a bit more creative.”
Because of the local housing market’s strong record, Lane noted if a wise buyer chose a house in a preferable location, that person could expect appreciation in value. She cautioned against any ill-informed purchases, but she did advocate action for a certain segment of the population.
“If someone’s (going to) be here two years, … it’s hard for me to understand why you wouldn’t just go ahead and buy a house,” Lane said.
Statistics provided by Lane back up her confidence: from 2017 to 2019, the number of residential sales in Oktibbeha County has increased by 11%, and from 2018 to 2019, the residential sales volume went up by 7%.
MSU is not the only reason for the area’s strength and stability. While Tax Assessor Allen Morgan cited the university’s impact, he also pointed out Starkville’s status as a retirement center.
“It’s been amazing to watch the prices go up (and) people come in,” Morgan said. “Starkville’s growing. Oktibbeha County’s growing … It’s a good place to live.”