By Sonya Campbell
Harker Heights Herald

The welcome mat is out for potential homebuyers in Harker Heights — at least one Central Texas city that has experienced little downturn in sales despite the housing slump seen in other parts of the nation.

Harker Heights Chamber of Commerce President Bill Kozlik said the number of people requesting welcome packets has remained steady in recent years.

“There’s never been a slowdown,” he said.

The packets are customized to fit the recipient’s needs.

In some instances, the person requesting information is a visitor to the area who is looking for travel and tourism information. In others, the individual is a potential or new resident seeking information on local schools, businesses and other services the community has to offer.

Larry Mitchell, a broker associate with Era-Colonial Real Estate in Harker Heights, has been residing locally since 1974.

He worked in the real estate business since 1976 and primarily handles residential sales.

Most of his clients have ties to Fort Hood.

In addition to drawing active-duty personnel, he said, Harker Heights is becoming home to more and more military retirees.

One reason is because of low interest rates.

“That is what’s keeping the Central Texas area really hot. People can buy a home and have good home payments,” Mitchell said.

He noted the Lone Star State offers a Texas veterans’ loan with an interest rate of 4.4 percent while veterans with a 30 percent or more service-connected disability can get an interest rate as low as 3.9 percent.

Interest rates change every Friday night.

“Fort Hood has turned out to be a really good retirement area,” Mitchell said.

Drawing cards to the area include available services, such as all the medical facilities.

Recreation is another lure.

“There also are two great (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) lakes — Belton and Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir,” Mitchell said.

Military personnel aren’t the only ones looking to Harker Heights as a place to call home.

Couples with children are looking for homes in good school districts and nice neighborhoods.

“I think all of our schools here are good,” Mitchell said.

He noted the community has a variety of children’s activities available, such as baseball, softball and swimming.

“There is a lot of baseball in the summer for kids,” he said.

A central location is another benefit for those who opt to live in Harker Heights.

“We’re so close to big cities, 45 to 60 minutes away,” Mitchell said.

Home sales

Mitchell said Central Texas has not been really affected by the housing bubble that burst the dreams of Californians.

In 2006 and 2007, people were coming here and homes were selling fast, Mitchell said.

These days, however, the pace has slowed down some.

“Sellers have to be a little more competitive,” he said.

But as long as the property is priced well, and has curb appeal and an eye-pleasing interior, it should sell.

“If there are 15 houses on the market like yours, it may take a while,” Mitchell said, noting closing on a home typically occurs within about 30 days.

He said the ratio of sales for new versus existing homes is about 50/50.

“New construction, in most cases, tends to carry a higher price tag, which should be taken into consideration when selling a home,” he said, noting, “I’ve been having really good luck with resale homes.”

Home prices

Mitchell said housing prices have been going up about 3 percent per year.

In comparison to California, home prices rose by up to 50 percent and then the housing bubble burst.

“We never had that,” Mitchell said.

But he said the bar has been raised when it comes to financing a home.

In 2006-07, people with a credit score of 500 could qualify for a home loan.

Today, a score of 620 is needed.

Mitchell also provided insight into what people are willing to pay.

“A lot of my sales lately have been between the $200,000 and $300,000 range,” Mitchell said. “But the $90,000 to $130,000 range is a pretty hot market now, too. Most people are totally surprised at the prices of homes when they arrive (here). They can’t believe for $150,000 to $175,000 what kind of home they can get, or even for $125,000 the quality of home they can get.”

Overall, he said, “There are plenty of homes available. If you are in the market for a home, it’s a good time to buy. The values are steady, not going up drastically, and interest rates are low. They had been climbing but leveled off again. It’s really a good time to buy.”