Banking & Finance

Mahoning Valley Real Estate Market On the Rise

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Programs such as “Flip or Flop” or “Love It or List It” might be ratings hits, but Gina Shutrump is concerned that they raise unrealistic expectations for buyers.

“They want the ‘after’ picture,” the managing broker in the Canfield office of Howard Hanna Real Estate observes. “They see too much HGTV. They don’t want to live through the renovation and they don’t want to do the work themselves.”

Despite encountering a demanding buyer every once in a while, Shutrump and other Mahoning Valley real estate agents report signs of a resurgent housing marketing market, a trend supported by recent statistics that show sales of houses in the Valley are ahead of last year.

Through May, closed sales were up 12.3% in Mahoning County and 14.2% in Trumbull County, according to the Centralized Real Estate Information Services Multiple Listing Service. The monthly report, issued in June, also shows the average sale price is up 9.4% in Mahoning County and 11.5% in Trumbull County for the first five months of the year compared to the same period a year ago. Brokers and agents attribute that in part to fewer houses to sell.

Reports from Valley real estate agents support the statistical data for the market in the two counties.

May sales in the Canfield office of Howard Hanna were up 54% from the same month in 2014. “And we had a very good May last year, so that says quite a bit,” Shutrump says.

Activity is strong across the board. Of 18 “Homes of Distinction” – properties the agency lists at $400,000 or more – 14 have been sold over the past six months, she says.

“With interest rates remaining very low and with buyers being more savvy than ever before, we’re seeing a lot of activity,” Shutrump says. Agents also see more offers of two or more on listings than ever before, she adds.

Shutrump’s advice to sellers likely to encounter buyers’ high expectation is “put a little [money] into” their properties if they expect to get the prices they list. “If it looks like the Bradys’ house [from the 1970s sitcom “The Brady Bunch”] it’s going to sit,” she counsels.

Andrea Lupton, an agent with the Howland office of Northwood Realty Services, agrees that activity is picking up, in part the result of rising interest rates.

Lupton recently had an “excellent buyer” get a 4.25% rate, when the rate had been 4% or less for “really top-quality buyers,” she says.

“The prediction is interest rates are going to continue to climb,” says Lupton, District 1 vice president of the Ohio Association of Realtors. The National Association of Realtors anticipates rates will rise to 5% by the end of this year. “So that’ll stir the market. Get out there to grab what we call cheap money,” she advises.

There are definitely many buyers looking for houses and condominiums but they often fail to find what they want, Lupton says.

“They’re not finding what they’re looking for because of the lack of homes on the market and the homes that we do have are dated,” she explains. “They’re not really appealing to today’s buyers.”

Lupton attributes that to the reluctance of homeowners during the Great Recession to maintain their properties as well as they otherwise would have.

Most of the requested updates include upgraded kitchens, bathrooms and open floor plans. Most of what is on the market are “cookie-cutter homes,” as she calls them, with formal dining and living rooms. Would-be buyers “like that wide-open floor plan,” she remarks.

“We’re actually seeing a lot of the investors coming into the market, the ones that like to flip houses,” she adds. “They’re buying these ones that need updating, putting money into them and making a pretty good profit at it.”

Pent-up demand is driving the housing market, says Yvonne Smith, broker and owner of Real Living Brokers Realty Group, Warren, and this year’s president of the Warren Area Board of Realtors.

“We had the best April we’ve ever had,” she reports. In addition to the existing demand, the down payments lenders require are loosening so buyers don’t need as much down and are “not quite as penalized with [private] mortgage insurance,” she says.

“People are finding homes in a price range that they can at least consider,” she says.

More sales activity combined with the smaller number of houses for sale is a “positive factor” for prices and for sellers, allowing them “to start rebuilding their wealth,” Smith says.

Banks have started to rehabilitate some of the houses they repossessed, so when they come back on the market such houses have been “stabilized,” she says.

Most activity is in the midlevel segment of the market, Smith reports. “In Trumbull County we still need higher-end inventory,” she says. “”A lot of our agents are selling right around the $100,000 mark if they’re in any kind of good condition.”

Sellers are getting “a lot closer to list price,” she says, the result of high demand and more realistic expectations in their asking prices. “Agents have learned how to price homes,” she points out. “Agents that are in the market now won’t take overpriced listings.”

Activity is “unbelievable,” says Holly Ritchie, an agent with Keller Williams Chernevic Realty, Boardman. Ritchie reports 111 houses were sold within the city of Canfield and Canfield Township the first five months, 26% more than the same period in 2014.

“We had a convention last month and the speaker explained that everything is cyclical in nature,” she recalls. “The market dropped in 2001 and then we had seven good years of appreciation. Then in 2008, the market dropped again.”

Ritchie notes that activity is high in the run up to a presidential election year, because buyers are afraid of what the incoming president might do.

She tells her owners considering when and whether to sell that now is the best time.
“When the supply is low in any area, the demand is high. So sellers are expecting top dollar for their homes. Sometimes they get it; sometimes they don’t,” Ritchie relates. “It just depends on who the buyer is and how bad they need a home.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.