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Realtors speak on "real story" on local housing market

The Columbus Board of Realtors Wednesday kicked off a new marketing camp to tell people "The Grass is Greener Here."

They're spending about $200,000 to show central Ohio has faired better than most areas in the recent housing crisis. But that may depend on which figures you reference.

The Board of Realtors used the six-person panel to tell what it the real story of the central Ohio housing market. Franklin County Commissioner Paula Brooks.

"Our housing market is fueling economic development here in Franklin County," Brooks says. "In fact, let's remember that from 2003 to 2006 we had the largest housing boom in the history of the city. Unlike other large cities, Columbus is actually growing."

One of Brook's colleagues in county government was also on hand, auditor Joe Testa.

"Franklin County continues to have an affordable and stable housing market," Testa says. "The negative national news regarding the housing market doesn't translate well to Franklin County."

That's the general theme of the campaign: positive, positive, positive. The Board of Realtors plans to lease billboard space, advertise on several major Web sites, and purchase several TV and radio spots.

Speaking immediately after the announcement, Board of Realtors president Greg Radchek says the board is just trying to dispel some of the myths about the recent downturn in the housing market.

"What we're trying to do is let the public know the positive statistics that are out there that show Columbus is a great place to be employed, raise a family and own a home."

But there are plenty of troubling statistics as well. Franklin County has an all-time high 4,100 homes in foreclosure, with another 1,300 homes listed in pre-forclosure.

And according to the National Association of Realtors, Columbus ranked 109th in growth among major cities last year. Jim Newton is the chief economic advisor for Commerce National Bank in Columbus. He characterizes it by saying central Ohio's housing market is a little less horrible than most places.

"But less bad does not translate into good," Newton says. "It simply means that houses may not be on the market as long, that sellers are not going to have concessions that are as heavy as others. But it certainly does not indicate that there's a turnaround in Columbus or anywhere else for that matter."

That's evident in the state's legal services association, the branch of state government that helps low-income residents with legal issues.

Staff attorney Linda Rice coordinates efforts with other agencies. She says over the last few months, she's dealt almost exclusively with the state housing council.

"I know from talking with the housing counseling people, they're feeling fairly overwhelmed with the demand for assistance from people seeking assistance with their mortgage," Rice says. "I know that they average about a three-to-four week b wait before you can even get in to get assistance from a housing councilor, and for someone in foreclosure that's a long time."

Rice says the demand for housing counseling and assistance in central Ohio is still increasing, and it's unclear when her office will be maxed out.

Good news for her: both the Board of Realtors and economic advisor Newton predict an upturn in the market. The realtors say and hope it's just around the corner, while Newton says it's at least a year or two away.