Housing still strong near military bases

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' 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 national home prices and sales are down, there are pockets in the U.S. doing well. Among them are military towns dominated by big bases, helped by steady wartime employment and by more moderate increases in values and less reckless lending than many boom areas saw during the bubble.

A review of housing data in four states with big military bases 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.

Average home prices in the United States fell a record 4.8 percent in the second quarter compared with a year ago, with some areas like California and Nevada falling between 14 and 16 percent, according to the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight. It uses data from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and includes more than 5 million repeat sales transactions.

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 Fayetteville, 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. Second quarter figures were unavailable, but 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.

“We are faring very well here,” said Greg West, general manager of H&H Homes, a regional homebuilder with an office in Fayetteville. “It is a solid year for us. We are doing better than most of the markets because the military gives us a very stable influence.”

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

Two commands are scheduled to move to Fort Bragg starting in 2009. The addition of thousands of new soldiers is expected to improve the market over the next couple of years.

Lee Zuravel, a Fayetteville attorney, recently sold his mother's four-bedroom house. The property was on the market for two weeks and he got his asking price.

“You hear on the national news how bad real estate sales are, but I think Fayetteville is protected because of Fort Bragg. Thank God for Fort Bragg,” Zuravel said.

Associated Press writers Kevin Maurer and Melissa Nelson contributed to this report.