John Sebree hasn’t lived in the Show-Me State for long, but he likes what he sees.

“I am really loving Columbia,” he says. “Everyone has been so incredibly nice and welcoming, too.”

The 48-year-old native Kentuckian arrived in Columbia last fall as the new CEO of the Missouri Association of Realtors after 11 years in Tallahassee, Fla., where he served as senior vice president of public policy at the Florida Association of Realtors. Although he’s never had a real estate license for himself, Sebree brings a wealth of experience to MAR from his time spent with Florida Realtors and as a lobbyist for the National Association of Realtors.

Sebree began his career in Washington, D.C., working for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Banking, Finance & Urban Affairs. A graduate of Northern Kentucky University, he earned his MBA from George Washington University, attending classes at night and working on Capitol Hill by day. His move to NAR brought him a new appreciation for real estate professionals.

“It is hard to work for Realtors for so many years and not get bitten by the real estate investment bug,” he says. “I have been buying investment properties for many years. Of course, I always use a Realtor.”

Sebree enjoys travel, visiting Europe several times a year, and spending time with family on his Kentucky farm just north of Lexington. But now, “home” is the American heartland, in Collegetown, USA.

“I see a lot of similarity between Columbia and Tallahassee because of the energy the college brings to the town,” Sebree says. There is one dissimilarity between the two towns, though — he has yet to acclimate to Columbia’s Midwestern weather patterns. “I will admit,” he says, “I am looking very forward to spring.”

Sebree is also looking forward to a good year in the Missouri real estate market, where he expects springtime to usher in an optimistic sales season in a locally stable market.

How does Missouri’s real estate market compare with the national market? What advantages does the Midwestern market utilize over other regions for property development and sales?
Missouri did not see the wild swings in prices that other parts of the nation experienced. We, therefore, did not have the enormous spike in foreclosures and short sales that I had to work with in Florida over the past few years. It is the stability we have seen here in Midwest Missouri that serves as an advantage for the long term. I like to say that what is going up should be going up and what is going down should be going down. For example, median sales prices have been on a steady increase but days on the market have been falling.

What factors are driving real estate sales in mid-Missouri?
We are fortunate to have a low unemployment rate in Columbia. We ended up the year at 3.3 percent unemployment, which is well below the national average. The addition of jobs created by BioPharma and Nanova help provide opportunities for people to move up or move to town, which helps create sales. However, we are always monitoring the sales that come from companies downsizing such as IBM and sales by those leaving the community.

Who is buying?
The median age of homebuyers in Missouri is 44 years old with a gross household income of $84,500. The household composition of homebuyers is 65 percent married couples, 16 percent single females, 9 percent single males and 8 percent unmarried couples; 35 percent of Missouri homebuyers have children in the home, and 21 percent own a second home.

In which price sector are homes selling best? What kinds of properties are generating the greatest demand?
In Columbia, the year 2014 saw an increase in sales of 23.7 percent over 2013 in the $300,000 to $399,999 price range and a 12.5 percent sales increase in the $200,000 to $249,999 price range, despite the overall market declining 1.8 percent in overall sold listings.

Of note, 84 percent of buyers have previously owned homes. The average home sale is a three-bedroom/two-bath house that measures about 1,870 square feet.

What are the prospects this year for residential and commercial real estate market sales in mid-Missouri?
Lower interest rates appear to have steered investors back into the market. The share of investors accounted for a slightly higher share of the market, at 17 percent. The share of first-time homebuyers dipped slightly to 29 percent.

Factors underpinning this increased optimism include an improving jobs market and the decline since October in the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage to slightly less than 4 percent. Recent measures by the Federal Housing Administration to lower the monthly mortgage insurance premium from 1.35 percent to 0.85 percent and the GSEs (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) to buy mortgages with 97 percent loan-to-value ratio may be helping as well.

Optimism also picks up in anticipation of the seasonal uptick of the spring season. Falling oil prices means more money in consumers’ pockets, which along with reasonable interest rates, should be positive for the housing outlook in 2015.

What challenges do you see on the horizon for local Realtors?
Realtors have pledged to be the protectors of private property rights and that comes with a responsibility to be involved in their communities and share their knowledge of the real estate transaction to assist consumer needs. As a community grows, they can be a great resource of local knowledge about sales trends, home data, and consumer wants and needs.

The state association is here to help our local associations and our members be real estate advocates as well as community advocates. With the expected growth in Columbia, we hope we can help them help make this the vibrant and affordable community all of our citizens can love and enjoy as the place they call home.

As I have always said, “Realtors connect communities.” They are on the front line meeting with buyers and sellers every day and they are eager to help prospective buyers achieve the American Dream.



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