YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Drew Barkett wasn’t concerned about putting his Butcher Road home in Leetonia on the market. Despite the ongoing pandemic, he knew the property would draw buyers, even with the $900,000 list price.
“I call it a gentleman’s farm,” he says. “It’s just the place where you can decompress.”
Built in the 1860s, the four-bed, 3.5-bath colonial sits on about 62.5 acres with two cornfields that divide his property from his neighbors. Along with ample space, the property features an inground swimming pool, a pond with zipline and a barn that was built about a decade after the house.
“We have family events out here. It’s the best place to raise kids,” Barkett says.
Holly Ritchie with Keller Williams Chervenic Realty is handling the sale. The last couple to look at the property said it was their “vacation home,” Ritchie says, in that they would live there full time and would never have to go on a vacation.
The property has been listed for 200 days and Ritchie has brought buyers around for showings once every 10 days, she says. “On a million-dollar home, that’s a lot,” she says.
Luxury houses – listings at $500,000 and up – are in strong demand right now, as evidenced by how fast they sell, she says. After the collapse of the housing market in 2008, it was common for higher-priced homes to take 14 to 17 months to sell.
Last year those listings were closing in 60- to 90 days, she says.
“In today’s market for the higher-priced homes – unless they’re on the lake or maybe a real gentleman’s farm – it’s taking just five to seven months. And that’s not bad,” Ritchie says. “For the higher-priced homes in the elite developments, they’re selling in a day.”
Location depends on the buyer. While there will be an exception or two, “a million-dollar home in Lake Milton sells immediately in this market,” she says. For someone looking for proximity to schools, grocery stores and other amenities, a property in suburban neighborhoods like Canfield would be more marketable. Recently, Ritchie sold a house on Spring Lake Lane in Canfield for $750,000 six days after it was listed.
For the most part, luxury listings are selling at asking price, says Kelly Warren of Kelly Warren & Associates Real Estate Solutions. It’s a break from the trend in the more average-priced market where listings sell above asking price.
“And of course the sellers are asking for more money for them to start with,” Warren says. “The listing prices are up from what they were a year or two or three years ago.”
Warren didn’t expect the luxury market to be as strong as it is, she allows. In the past, when General Motors still operated its Lordstown complex, “Those were the buyers for some of these homes,” she says. But when GM shut down and the market shifted, “I thought we’d struggle a little bit. Especially when COVID came.
“But we’ve had a fantastic market,” Warren says. “Things have remained high. And I think in this post-COVID world where people are able to work from home more often … if you now only have to go to the office once a week or twice a month, then you can live in an area like this and get a much nicer home for your dollar.”
Home offices are always important to luxury-market buyers. Last year, Warren sold a house to a buyer whose corporate headquarters is in St. Louis. But he had to only go to the office once monthly, she says.
“They have family here. It’s a great area,” she says. “Why not live here and just take a trip there for a couple of days once a month?”
Many of the luxury houses are custom-built with high-end materials and high-quality furnishings and appliances, notes Sally Beil-Demidovich, an agent with More Options Realty in Boardman. Beil-Demidovich specializes in the luxury market for the agency and is seeing some of her customers upgrading from homes that range from $200,000 to $300,000 and buying in the $500,000 to $600,000 range, she says.
Year-to-date, the average sale price for the agency’s listings is up 28%. Favorable interest rates drive more high-priced listings to the agency, she says.
“The economy has been doing well,” she says. “After the pandemic, everybody sat still. Now they’re out looking to make sure that they are happy with their way of life in their home. And so they’re out looking at new homes.”
Interest rates are under 3%. “And I can tell you that buys you a lot of house,” says Marlin Palich, a general manager and principal broker for Ohio with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Stouffer Realty.
That’s driven buyers from higher-priced markets to move to the Mahoning Valley to buy luxury houses for less than what they were paying, he says. He’s seeing buyers from Arizona and California coming in and paying cash for their homes.
Says Palich, “$300,000, $400,000 and even $500,000 is not a big deal to them. In this market area, we can get a lot of housing, a lot of bang for our buck. So coming back here, the housing market is favorable to them to pay cash for a home and buy probably a bigger home than they lived in in those other markets.”
Most of Beil-Demidovich’s buyers are local, she says. But her luxury properties have drawn interest from buyers outside of the area.
“In February and March, I was showing so many Pennsylvania buyers I could not believe it,” she says. A home in North Jackson recently attracted a buyer from Canada, who looked to rent the house on Airbnb, she says.
One trend Keller Williams’ Ritchie has noticed is that luxury property buyers are getting younger. She sees many building or buying properties, particularly those in the Westford/Kennsington development, who are in their 30s. She attributes that to college graduates earning higher wages in their 20s and possibly doubling their salaries by their 30s.
“It wasn’t like that when I was growing up,” she says. “You bought a $100,000 home and you maybe moved up to a $150,000 home.”
Low housing inventory, which plagues the entire residential real estate industry, is another driver for the strong market, Ritchie notes. Some houses that have been on the market for longer than a year are now taking a month or so to close.
“That just shows you it’s such a great market right now,” she says. “There’s nothing to buy. No one is listing their home. … When the supply is low, the demand is high.”
That also creates a challenge, however, for luxury homeowners looking to downsize, says Berkshire Hathaway’s Palich. If someone living in a $400,000 home wants to downsize to a $200,000 home or condo, “they’re not there,” he says. “That’s the other twist in this whole situation.”
One of the things Palich would like to see is lenders “being a little bit more lenient in helping some of these builders and developers develop land and build homes so that we have more inventory,” he says.
That said, Palich believes there’s enough inventory out there for people looking for higher-priced homes. And while he believes buying new or building in existing developments is ideal to take advantage of utilities already in place, there is a continuing shift toward more rural areas with larger parcels. The pandemic helped to drive that, he says.
“I hate to keep bringing that up but it’s there,” Palich says. “They’re looking for places where they can put a pool in – maybe if their kids like horses or whatever, where they have a bit more ground to do things.”
The agents all seem to agree that while the lesser expensive housing market goes through its typical cooling off period in the winter and after the holidays, the big-ticket market will be unchanged well into 2022.
“The higher-price market won’t be affected by the moratorium on evictions that ends Oct. 1. It won’t be affected by the furloughing of mortgages. It’ll just stay strong,” Ritchie says. “March, April and May will be the height of it. And then when it gets cool next year, I think it’ll cool off. But I think it’ll be good for about a year.”
Pictured at top: Holly Ritchie and Drew Barkett review listing documents for his Leetonia home.