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Coal markets, housing interact in southern West Virginia

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When there's uncertainty in the coal market, there can be uncertainty in coal miners. Sometimes that means they might be more hesitant to make large purchases such as homes. 

While coal markets in Appalachia have widely struggled through various obstacles, the recent presidential election stirred up much fear and anxiety in the coal region. However, at least two in the real estate business say home sales don't seem to be doing so bad in the coalfields. 

Charlie Mitchell, a Clayton Homes consultant, said he is optimistic about the near future of the housing market where he is based in Danville. He said lately he's been pretty busy. 

"When the coal industry is down home sales dip, and I was concerned because we were just coming off the election and this potentially could have been a tough year for home sales," Mitchell said. "It's early in the year, but we're coming off probably our strongest quarter I've seen in my seven years."

Mitchell said that the home sales in his area have changed in at least one way.

"I have noticed they're not looking at the highest-dollar homes," Mitchell said. "We're actually selling more homes, but the average home price has gone down some. 

"It appears they are scaling back a little bit, but obviously have enough confidence that folks are still buying homes."

Mitchell said back before the election and around the time the results were announced, he was concerned that some in the coal business would be too nervous to purchase homes based on discussions he had with many. He said hundreds of people indicated they wanted to see the outcome of the election. 

"A lot of folks at the time were telling me, ‘I want to see what happens with the election. I want to wait until the first of the year.' … For whatever reason, those same folks in November/December that were saying ‘I want to wait until January, February, March' came in and picked their homes," Mitchell said.

He said many of the same buyers involved in the coal industry that indicated that an Obama win might scare them from a home purchase were back with enough financial confidence to purchase a home. 

However, "that could change tomorrow," Mitchell said. 

Tracie Dove, president of the Fayette-Nicholas Board of Realtors, estimated about 40 percent of their business is done with those in the mining industry in "one way or another." She said she found those in the coal industry to be, perhaps surprisingly, optimistic. 

"In this particular region, in Fayette County, we have not seen a decline in home sales," Dove said. "It's not as bad here for the coal industry. We've not had in this particular county, layoffs as much as other counties."

She said sales have been steady, if not somewhat increased. Prices, Dove said, have mostly remained flat.