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Housing deals can leave buyers fuming over gas costs down the road

Right now there is a glut of homes for sale in the south Charlotte housing market.

Between Sharon Amity Road and Highway 51 there are more than 200 homes for sale that are large, in good condition and in school districts that traditionally have a reputation for parent involvement and high test scores.  And did I mention that these homes are listed somewhere between $220,000 and $320,000?

That’s right. I’m talking about a full-brick, four-bedroom home with a bonus room, garage, updated kitchen and baths — in an established neighborhood — for a price that is an absolute steal.

Five years ago, these homes used to sell in the $400,000 range easily. Neighborhoods like Crown Colony Estates, Sardis Croft, Beverly Crest and Providence Commons saw large resale returns in a quick turnaround. Now those same neighborhoods have an absorption rate — the time it will take them to sell — of more than a year with little to no return on their investment.

Seems like a no-brainer for those fortunate enough to be unencumbered buyers right now, be it transferees or current Queen City residents.  Basically, anybody looking to get more house for less money should shop this bloated market. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel, right?

However, there are some serious considerations these days that may turn that lucky buyer’s dream of affordable suburban homeownership into a nightmare of hidden costs and long commutes.

Gas prices skyrocketed to almost $4 a gallon in Center City this May. Anyone can see that pumping gas for that amount makes for an expensive daily commute, but factoring these costs into your housing purchase can prevent a pretty terrible case of buyer’s remorse.

Buyers may think that their upfront costs — the purchase of the home, utilities, maintenance, insurance, taxes and homeowners association dues — are all within the reach of their pocket books and then some. But adding up what the transportation costs are now and multiplying that by your years of planned ownership is worth the effort when purchasing a home. These costs can far outweigh the benefit of cheaper square footage.

Conversely, buying a home where you have the ability to walk or bike to your office is not only the greenest way to live, but also the most cost-effective.

Not only should buyers consider the extra $10,000 a year in commuting expenses, but they should also look at retaining the real value of their home. When gasoline prices rise, home prices in the urban sector, those closest to the city center, rise with them. Conversely, home prices in the suburban sector fall.

While home sales are low and may dip even further, nowhere is this felt more than in the suburban neighborhoods of Charlotte. Meanwhile, while not increasing, home sales in Dilworth, Plaza Midwood, Myers Park and Eastover have at least stabilized. A huge factor in this is the cost of gasoline. Even above school districts, neighborhood reputation or the luxurious renovation you’ve added to your home, gasoline prices and the cost of commuting trump everything when it comes to home value.

So a warning to those blessed buyers who are greedily gloating over their position in this market: It may look tempting to purchase the maximum square footage at the minimum price at the cost of a long commute, but buyer beware. For every fifth bedroom or extra bonus room, imagine these spaces filled, not with more furniture that you really don’t need or another elliptical machine, but instead with cold, green cash. And, unfortunately, that room-sized pile of money, while staging the house nicely, does not convey with the purchase of the home.

Joanna Reule is a Realtor and broker at Cottingham Chalk Hayes. She can be reached at jreule@cchrealtors.com or cchrealtors.com.

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