SATSUMA — A year after floodwaters invaded about 20,000 homes and businesses in Livingston Parish, the real estate market is bouncing back.
Brian Andrews, commercial real estate consultant and assistant director of the Real Estate Research Institute at LSU, said the market in the parish has shown itself to be "surprisingly resilient."
The average price of a newly built home in the parish increased from about $191,000 to $195,000 from June 30, 2016 to July 1, 2017, according to data from the Louisiana Multiple Listing Service.
The average price of an older house dipped from about $171,000 to $163,000 during that time period, the result of "flooded and gutted" homes that were sold to investors for cheap, he said.
But realtors said the older homes renovated to modern tastes are already beginning to fetch higher prices than before the August floods, when parish homes had reached record high prices.
House sales are up from about 1,950 to 2,100 over the same time period.
Andrews said buyers have not been scared off by the flooding, which affected Livingston Parish worse than almost any other in the state. Among the reasons are the industry coming in and the well-respected schools.
"People who live here love living here and they're going to find a way to come back," he said.
Andrews spoke alongside realtors and public officials at the 2017 Real Estate and Economic Forecast conference hosted by the Greater Baton Rouge Area Realtors at the Suma Hall Conference Center on Thursday morning.
Kayla Lockhart Johnson, a realtor with Covington & Associates and chair of the forecast committee, said she had expected the residential market to "completely take a dive" after the flood and that it would require three to five years to overcome. Instead, she said, the market started stabilizing in two months.
She said there have been changes to the local market. Some homes have sold to investors with an interest in flipping or renting while young couples have bought in, seeing an opportunity to live in the bedroom community east of Baton Rouge at an affordable price.
Renovations of older homes are ongoing and are expected to reach the market soon — at better prices than before the floods, she said. New construction, which slowed as resources focuses on renovations, is picking up, she said.
One wild card that may affect construction and home prices in the area will be Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, according to Andrews. He said builders and supplies are already moving to the Houston area and Florida where Irma is headed now.
"We fear that they'll be leaving our market," Andrews said. "During hurricane emergency restoration, the money starts to fly."
That could slow construction or increase prices for homes here.
The fate of the National Flood Insurance Program, which is still deep in debt from Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, could also affect home prices in the future, he said.
Recovery also has been seen in the commercial real estate market, said Joe Moore, division director for commercial sales and leasing at RE/MAX, who lists several shopping complexes in the parish.
"It came back a lot quicker than we thought it was going to," he said of malls, such as Juban Crossing that have followed residential growth here.
Moore said that about 80 percent of commercial real estate in the parish flooded last summer, of which about 70 to 80 percent has been restored. He said some new companies are trying to build higher and more shrewdly now. There may, however, be some upward pricing for tenants on the so-called triple net charges to cover increased flood premiums.
Jeff Taylor, Livingston Parish assessor, said it will take from six to eight months to get a full picture of the economic recovery.
Taylor, who invited about 50 local officials to put on green sunglasses and join him on the stage for a rendition of "We are Family," told attendees that the parish would recover through their fighting spirit.
"We are on the move in Livingston Parish. And anybody that don't think we are, get out of our way, because we are moving on," he said.