Real estate agents and homebuyers typically are deep into hibernation when January arrives, but Waco’s housing industry shrugged off precedent and set more records that month, according to a West Texas economist’s latest report on Waco.

Homebuilders also joined the fun, taking out 58 permits to build homes in Waco, an all-time high for the month and 38% more than the 42 issued in January 2019, said Karr Ingham, of Amarillo, who prepares a monthly snapshot for the First National Bank of Central Texas and the Tribune-Herald.

He uses data dating to 2000 to track home and non-residential construction, hotel revenues, consumer spending, employment and vehicle sales. His Greater Waco Economic Index surged into record territory in January, hitting a raw score of 134.1, said Kris Collins, senior vice president for economic development at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce. Collins presented Ingham’s findings Friday to a group of invited business leaders.

Relying on Waco’s Multiple Listing Service, Ingham reported that 180 existing homes sold in January, up 8.4% from January last year. The average home sales price slipped 1.8% compared with January 2019 norms.

Amanda Cunningham, with Coldwell Banker Apex Realtors, echoed the sentiment that the housing market remains robust, but tapped the brakes on comparing performances now with those two or three years ago.

“It’s not the time anymore to over-price a house,” Cunningham said.

Mentioning two traditional hotbeds of home sales, Cunningham said Hewitt is booming, while “Woodway is slipping due to price points.”

All Greater Waco would benefit from additional housing stock, Cunningham said. Quality homes priced $200,000 and below are increasingly difficult to find, though demand is growing, she said.

Buying or refinancing a home became easier this week, as 30-year and 15-year fixed-rate mortgage rates fell to 3.29% and 2.79%, respectively, both viewed as all-time lows, according to reporting in MarketWatch.

February statistics prepared by Ashton Gustafson, who operates a real estate analytics firm, A.G. Real Estate & Associates, show home sales continued to climb in February, with 211 changing hands. Gustafson, who also relies on MLS data, provided the Tribune-Herald with his latest findings.

He also reported that the average list price in February was $229,600, and the average sales price was $214,247, a 9.3% increase from February last year. Average stay on the market was 75 days, down three days, and homes on average sold for 95.55% of list price, according to his report.

General retail spending increased a modest 2.7% in January compared with January last year, Ingham reported. For the 12 months through January 2020, taxable spending was up 1.3%, and general real spending throughout all 2019 grew at only 0.8% compared with 2018, according to his report.

Gregg Glime, who stays abreast of local trends as a commercial agent with Coldwell Banker, said retail appears to be stabilizing in Waco, and he does not see new retail and dining concepts on the horizon.

“Not like we’ve seen the last two or three years,” Glime said.

He mentioned the giant entertainment complex NewQuest Properties plans at New Road and Interstate 35, which will include retail among its entertainment and dining features. He said selling retail now could prove challenging.

Industry, though, looks to be going gangbusters in the near future, and high-profile prospects are in the pipeline, Ingham said.

He reported that building permits issued for nonresidential construction such as commercial and industrial buildings and houses of worship and others totaled $63 million, the third-highest total ever for January. Still, the total was 4.7% below the $66 million of January last year, the second-highest all time.

The highest ever January permit issuance was $77 million in 2001.

Vehicle sales totaled $59 million in January, 9.1% more than in January 2019 and almost double the $30.9 million in January of the base year 2000.

Ted Teague, who manages Allen Samuels Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram Fiat on West Loop 340, said the positive news from January did not reflect his experience.

“January was tough, February was a lot better,” Teague said. “We’re selling more used cars than new, which is flipped from a couple of years ago.”

Hotel spending reached $3.9 million in January, a 4.1% year-over-year bump, as Waco continues to flex its muscle as a tourist and visitor destination.

Todd Bertka, director of the Waco Convention Center and Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Waco’s hotel occupancy during the fourth quarter last year hit 74.9%, the best in the state, after placing in the top-three with Austin-Round Rock and El Paso during much of the year.

Bertka said the rate will be tested as new hotels under construction increase the available room supply by 40% within two years.

He is putting greater emphasis on traveling to Austin to meet with representatives of state associations in the city’s pursuit of conventions, Bertka said.

Ingham estimated the January jobless rate locally at 3.6% but said that number is subject to change as the Texas Workforce Commission is in the midst of revising employment data for the past two years.

This is an annual process for the workforce commission, Collins said.

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