Existing home sales have cooled in Greater Waco after a record-breaking start to 2017, but builders continue to flood Waco City Hall for permits to build new homes, securing more than 400 through October, according to an Amarillo economist.

Karr Ingham, who prepares a monthly snapshot of local economic trends for the First National Bank of Central Texas and the Tribune-Herald, said homebuilding “continues to put up some stout numbers in 2017.” He said in his most recent report that the 411 permits issued through October is the highest total for the first 10 months of the year since 2007.

Homes are going up, but fewer are changing hands, Ingham reported. He uses data dating to 2000 to prepare the Greater Waco Economic Index. The index rose a scant two-tenths of 1 percent between September and October, though the raw score of 125.5 matched its all-time high.

Texas-based homebuilding giants D.R. Horton and Stylecraft have secured dozens of permits in recent months for the sprawling, 1,500-home Park Meadows subdivision unfolding in far West Waco. Several other projects in the planning stage would each make hundreds of new homes available.

For much of 2017, local real estate agents have gushed over the pace of home sales, some sharing stories about residences changing hands in hours or days, before they appeared on the Multiple Listing Service.

But home sales slipped to 198 in October, a 19 percent drop from the same month last year. Through the first 10 months, 2,293 existing homes have sold, a decline of almost 4 percent from a comparable period in 2016, according to Ingham’s report.

“The market has been great, and sometimes people get the impression sales are made within a couple of days of a listing,” Camille Johnson Realtors agent Kristin Clements said. “Today, the average stay on the market is 92 days. Last year, the average was 124 days."

Clements attended a presentation of Ingham’s report Thursday.

“For most of 2017, we’ve been rocking and rolling, receiving multiple offers on our listings, but everything screeched to a halt in late summer,” she said. “We have a client trying to sell a home listed at $900,000, a great house, but we have not had a showing since August.”

Homes that do sell carry a higher price than a year go, according to Ingham. His report revealed that the average price for a residence changing hands in October climbed to $203,955, well above the $186,298 average in October 2016.

Spending and employment growth have turned sluggish, Ingham said. Consumer outlays have risen only seven-tenths of 1 percent through October compared to the first 10 months last year, according to his report, which analyzes sales taxes for Waco, Bellmead, Beverly Hills, Hewitt, Lacy Lakeview, Lorena, McGregor, Robinson, West and Woodway.

The number of people working in the Waco Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Falls and McLennan counties, found itself in negative territory for the third straight month, with the October estimate of 118,900 jobs down by about 500 positions from October 2016.

The jobless rate has dropped sharply over the past year. In fact, the 3.3 percent unemployment figure in October was the lowest monthly rate during the history of the Greater Waco Economic Index, Ingham said.

“The good news is that according to these estimates most of the Waco metro area labor force are indeed employed, but a deeper look at the numbers simply suggests a general malaise in the Waco overall employment situation,” Ingham said, referring to a shrinking labor force.

But silver linings could be found elsewhere in Ingham’s report. Inflation-adjusted spending on new and used vehicles increased 10 percent in October from the same month last year. Sales for the year so far, however, are flat.

General construction activity posted a 34 percent year-over-year increase in October, but Ingham deflated the significance of that number with a reminder that October was the worst month of 2016.

The GWEI so far this year has generated mixed results, increasing in five months and declining in the other five, Ingham said.

During the meeting Thursday, several business leaders mentioned trends affecting their sectors.

Matt Meadors, president of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber will tap its reserve fund to spend $250,000 on economic development, $100,000 to support business start-up initiatives, and $100,000 to paint, install new carpeting and apply technology upgrades to the chamber’s downtown headquarters.

Will Phipps, executive director of the Greater Waco Sports Commission, said Waco will host more high school sports championships this year than any other city in Texas. Its central location makes it the preferred choice over Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, Phipps said.

Tyler Martin, spokesman for PALS Home Health, an in-home provider of pediatric medical services, said he has hired about 100 nurses the past eight months and continues to add 10 to 12 licensed vocational nurses and registered nurses to his payroll monthly.

Martin said he faces competition from local hospitals and sometimes recruits from Temple, Killeen, Corsicana, Dallas and Round Rock.

Waco City Councilman Jim Holmes said the proposed $100 million Brazos Promenade and $130 million Brazos Commons developments planned near Lake Brazos “will change the skyline of Waco.” He said $8 million was earmarked for clearing the former Downtown Farmers Market site on the west bank of the lake to accommodate the Promenade, but the task will cost only $1.5 million, leaving more money for other downtown improvements.

Austin Meek, co-owner of the Pokey O’s food truck, said he is considering locations downtown and on Elm Avenue for a permanent location. He said he also is considering converting the old Kestner’s building on Elm Avenue into an entertainment center with a bar, restaurant and bowling alley.

About the Index

The Greater Waco Economic Index is a monthly snapshot of the city’s economic status produced by Amarillo-based economist Karr Ingham. The 19 indicators used include retail sales, auto sales, building permits, average home sale prices, airline enplanements, employment data and other statistics.

The Trib publishes the index in partnership with the First National Bank of Central Texas.

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