Learn About The Eastern Tennessee Market With Loan Officer Matt Ronne

Tennessee now has more than seven million residents and a senior loan officer who works in the eastern half of the state says inventory and affordability issues have hit the communities he serves.

According to U.S. Census Bureau information, the population of Tennessee grew by 2% between April 1, 2020, and July 1, 2022. The latest population estimate is that 7,051,339 people live in the Volunteer State, a nickname earned because of Tennessean’s eagerness to step forward in times of war.

Athens, the county seat of McMinn County, is located near the eastern border between the cities of Knoxville and Chattanooga.

The population in Athens has grown from 14,086 residents in April 2020 to 14,371 in July 2022 and data from Redfin shows that in April of this year, home prices were up 4.9% compared to last year. The median sale price was $270,000.

Matt Ronne, who works at Motto Mortgage Preferred Brokers in Athens, recently sat down with Editor Kimberley Haas to talk about what he is seeing in the area.

Haas: So you have been in the industry for 18 years. You’ve seen a lot of changes. What are some of the biggest revolutions or changes you’ve seen that have really made your job as a senior loan officer easier?

Ronne: We’ve come a long way. I mean, when I first got into this we were doing handwritten applications. People were faxing docs across. We had to have them physically come into an office to sign.

The technology is game-changing and it gets better every day. It’s just like a phone or car.

It’s made our jobs a lot easier. It’s more efficient.

Haas: What are some of the challenges?

Ronne: The overall economy is challenging no matter where you’re at.

It comes down to affordability right now. Our dollars are not going as far as they used to and it’s challenging. It’s challenging, especially on a big-ticket item like the mortgage.

There’s a lot of people moving here, a lot of people relocating here, retiring here, and we just don’t have the houses for the number of people that want to live here right now.

So that’s my biggest problem right now locally, and that’s from Johnson City to Chattanooga and everywhere in between. We just don’t have enough inventory.

Believe it or not, in this market, we’re getting back to the highest and best offers. We’re seeing houses go up 5, 10, 15 thousand dollars above the list price right now.

We went from a seller’s market in 2020 to a buyers’ market in most of 2022 and we’re transitioning back to a sellers’ market again.

Haas: I think that there are national issues when it comes to affordability and inventory but inventory can be problematic for different reasons in different parts of the country. Are you having a problem with inventory because sellers aren’t willing to sell because of high interest rates and a lack of inventory, or is it because there’s not been enough building?

Ronne: If you bought a house prior to February of 2022 you probably have an interest rate somewhere between 2 and 3% on average.

If you’re going to buy today, and you’re going to sell your house, that interest rate’s going to be possibly three times higher.

So that’s why we don’t have more houses being listed on the market as far as existing homes.

I think the national builders have finally moved in here. We do have a couple in Knoxville.

I think honestly we had an issue here prior to the pandemic with supply and demand. It seems like since I’ve been living in this area that’s always been an issue.

Haas: Did you notice in your part of Tennessee a lot of people moving there during the pandemic? I know that we have been tracking the migration of people from snowbound states to the southern states. Did you see an influx of people?

Ronne: Yes, absolutely. The world realized we could work remotely and do a lot.

It’s a much lower cost of living in southeast Tennessee than it is anywhere up in the northeast, northwest coast, and we’re seeing a lot of people coming from Florida. A lot of my pipeline right now is from Ohio, Florida, and California.

I don’t think that slows down anytime soon. I really don’t.

Haas: What are your predictions going forward in 2023 and what are you thinking of as you prepare for 2024?

Ronne: The rest of this spring and summer I’m going to remain very busy seasonally. Those are always big months.

In this climate, I think that’s our expectation for Q2 and Q3. I think that it’s going to remain hot.

Once you turn that schedule, you get into November, December, colder weather holidays, you’re focusing on cooking hams and turkeys and wrapping presents versus buying a house or refinancing for that matter, so our focus right now certainly is to push really hard through Q2, through Q3, get as much as we can in there.

For Q4 and Q1 of next year, there’s a lot of uncertainty. I think there is some optimism, though. Everything that we read, everything that we follow, it looks like rates will move back down to the fours.

If that happens, you’re going to see the refinance options. All these people that are buying right now at 5, 6 and 7% hopefully have a chance to get into a lower rate, a lower payment, or even a shorter term.

Haas: What advice would you give to a young professional that’s looking to get into the field right now?

Ronne: We don’t see a lot of fresh kids right out of college coming to the field. Usually it’s a transition from another financial service industry, whether it be payday loan, a real estate agent, or title company.

It takes a little bit to understand what we do and how we do it and I think that’s the challenging part. It is hard to tell a young person, “Hey, you could make this or you could make zero.” A lot of people just aren’t willing to take that on. They could work really, really hard for 30 days and not see a paycheck.

That’s challenging, especially in this day and time where everything is costing more.

For those new people, put your gear on, put your armor on. Make sure you’re surrounded by people who know what they do. Make sure you’re with them in an office that has some seasoned people in it that can help steer you through a tough situation because it’s challenging, there’s no doubt about it.

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