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Vacant houses on Main Street up for sale

There are at least eight houses with “for sale” signs on North and South Main Street in Sylvania and that’s giving the impression Main Street is having some troubles.
Ben McKay, research specialist in the bureau of business research and economic development and full-time researcher at Georgia Southern University, said the housing market has cycles but keeping Main Street full is a must for small towns.
“Whenever you have a visible street, like a main street, it’s important to make it look like it’s vibrant,” McKay said, “because that’s a gateway into the community and it shows where the community is as far as economic development, and without that front door being nice and cheery a lot of folks will turn around.”
Each of the houses listed for sale by realtors that the Sylvania Telephone contacted on Main Street are pried for more than $100,000. Many of the homes are from the early-to-mid-1900s and would need major renovations to bring the house to livable conditions and even more to bring utility bills down.
McKay said turning the properties over as fast as possible and selling them to an owner who would update would bring the surrounding property values up quickly. He said a “Broken Window Effect” could come into play with the houses, which is where broken windows are more likely to invite people to damage nearby windows. If all the broken windows are fixed, people would be less likely to break them.
Public Information Director of Savannah Bret Bell said Savannah has used different initiatives to renovate or demolish properties that needed either.
Their 100 Worst Properties initiative is on the fourth list, and after the first one more properties are being renovated rather than demolished. The goal has changed toward rehabilitation.
“It’s tough for me to comment on Main Street Sylvania, but I’ll say that the Savannah model, at one time downtown Savannah was largely abandoned, houses were being knocked down so their bricks could be sold and they were removed to make way for newer facilities and other progress,” he said. “I will say that, thankfully for Savannah, local groups stepped in to save those structures. Protection of any community’s historical assets should be part of an economic development plan.”
Now thanks to grants and loans and community involvement, Broughton Street is one of the main retail centers of the Southeast United States, he said.
McKay said many of the buildings and old homes in Statesboro have been converted into business use which has helped make Statesboro’s downtown better looking to those traveling through.
Dallas LeMaster has lived on S. Main Street for about seven years, and a couple of weeks ago he listed his home for sale. He didn’t really notice all of the other for sale signs, he said.
“My personal reason for selling is not the surrounding areas; it’s not the neighbors; it’s not the traffic,” LeMaster said. “I do have that general concern where I want to be comfortable if my kid when he’s 3-4-5-years old, I’m not worried about him shooting down the driveway, getting in the middle of Main Street. Even when I’m in the backyard with him I’m hesitant.”
His family wants to get a house in the county and live in a quieter area, as well as larger house for future family additions. He said they wouldn’t move until the home sells.
The LeMaster family was the only residence the Sylvania Telephone could find with a person or family living inside.
He said his house has been listed for a couple of weeks but “not the first person has called or talked to the realtor.”
Prudential Kennedy Realtor Davy Wells is the agent for a N. Main Street home that went on the market after its owner died. The 3.1 acre yard and the more than 2,000 square feet home are nice facts, but Wells said it’s going to take “a young couple or a vision to see the house brought back to yesteryear.”
Wells, who is also a Development Authority board member, said the new incoming plant could change Sylvania’s housing market for the better as jobs come in.
John Fitzner lives on Main Street and has listed his mother’s next door home on N. Main Street for sale after she died about a year ago. The family had lived in the house since 1950 and the house next door has been in the family even longer, he said.
“Old people are dying and young people are moving away. That’s a fact,” he said. “Right now there is no reason to live here so people are going where the jobs are and they’re not in Screven.”
Two of Fitzner’s sons have moved away for jobs and the third is going to school. He said if things don’t change soon they’ll be even more houses for sale.
“A lot of people want this to stay like it is, and if it’s like it is there won’t be anything left,” he said.
Fitzner did said he would likely live in his current home till he dies, and then doesn’t know what will happen to the house just like others on Main Street.
City Manager Stacy Mathis said the city doesn’t have money for renovations or plans to keep the houses in good condition.
“I would be happy for the ones that are vacant to sell,” she said. “If they sit vacant for so long worse things could happen, but towns go through cycles.”
She’s hopeful the housing market will come back and the houses will get new owners.
McKay said people who are involved in the community would make better owners of the houses on Main Street. Bringing the houses back up to their once grandeur would take a person or family with a vested interest in not only the home but what the home means to the community.
“It’s going to show in a concentrated space that people are here, that like it, that want to be here, that care deeply about the community and are willing to invest and that brings about good things in the area,” he said.