Inner City Housing Market Is Strong

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – When the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. advertises a rehabilitated house on the Multiple Listing Service, the property generally doesn’t stay available for long.

“Hours?” a laughing Tiffany Sokol remarks, partially in jest.

Sokol is YNDC’s housing director. Her comment reflects the heightened activity of the residential real estate market – activity that includes inner-city areas.

“Pretty much as soon as they hit the MLS, we’ve got showings and we’re getting offers,” she says.

Local real estate agents attest that houses that might have languished on the market for weeks, if not months, now get offers within days, if not hours, of becoming available, and are going for significantly more money than the asking price.

David Zamarelli, broker and owner of William Zamarelli Realtors, Howland, says he has never seen the inner-city market as strong as it is now.

“A lot of times we’ll price something thinking the pricing is high and we end up getting [the asking price] and then some,” he says. Properties stay on the market just three or four days – sometimes even less.    

He also has seen prospective buyers “come in with just crazy numbers” because they are tired of looking for houses. “I don’t see any signs of it slowing down,” he remarks.  

An inner-city house in the area selling for $75,000 today would have gone for $54,000 just a year and a half ago, says Cynthia Cursaro, owner/broker at Tri-Sun Real Estate and Property Management, Austintown.

“Yes, we are seeing increased list prices and sale prices of properties, and we are seeing multiple offers on many of them,” she says.

A couple years ago, out-of-town investors were paying less than $30,000 for inner-city properties, says Mandie Dillon, an agent with Burgan Real Estate, Boardman. “Now I’ve got three under contract for $75,000 to $90,000,” which would have been “unthinkable” a few years earlier. And instead of investors, people are buying houses to live in themselves.

As with the broader market, the inventory of quality properties is tight in the cities, says Landon Kline, coordinator of Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership’s Building a Better Warren program. The Trumbull County Land Bank, which TNP manages, normally would have between 30 and 40 houses available to sell.

“We’ve been hovering between 15 and 20 most of this year,” he says.

Kline recently acquired his real estate license to get better access to potential buyers, and TNP just listed its first property on the MLS. The house, 205 Linden Ave. SE in Warren, is being sold through TNP’s deed-in-escrow or “fixer upper” program. Under the program, TNP sells houses at a “heavily discounted rate,” with the buyer required to renovate the property to move-in-ready status.

“This one is restricted to people who agree to live here for 36 months after renovating it,” he says.   

TNP has moved about 400 properties through the deed-in-escrow program over the years, and has 17 available today, Kline reports. Prices range from $3,500 to $25,000, based on the appraised market value of the property and the estimated work that needs to be done, he says. The Linden Avenue property is listed at $7,500, and already has gotten more than 2,000 views online and 60 saves.

Agents and brokers point to several factors contributing to the hot market, including demolition initiatives by YNDC, TNP and their partners.

Houses used to be tightly packed on city streets. “Now they have taken down so many houses that there is elbow room in the neighborhoods,” Tri-Sun’s Cursaro remarks.

“The houses that are left are in good condition and there are yards for kids to play. There aren’t any blighted homes on those streets,” she says. “The blighted houses are gone and more elbow room makes for the neighborhoods to be more cohesive. They’re not places for criminals to hide.”   

In addition to rehabilitating structures for sale, YNDC assists owners citywide with maintaining their properties, with most of that work taking place on the East Side.

About two years, ago, YNDC built, with “a significant amount of subsidy,” three new houses on Helena Avenue. The cost to build those houses was about $270,000 each and they sold for about $90,000 each, which was what the market would support then.  

“People want to purchase newly constructed homes but the cost of new construction still far exceeds the cost of rehabilitation,” Sokol says. “In Youngstown, we have a lot of homes that still can be saved, so our focus is on that because we can renovate significantly more existing houses with the same amount of money that it would take to build new houses.”

This year brought the end of the statewide Neighborhood Initiative Program, the primary funding source for TNP’s residential demolitions since 2014. The program funded more than 1,400 residential demolitions in Trumbull County, according to a TNP news release.

Now TNP is focusing on a more hands-on effort to market properties as well as renovating properties. “We are wrapping up four renovations and we have nine others in the planning stages,” Kline says.

Burgan Real Estate’s Dillon attributes the turnaround in Youngstown partially to YNDC’s revitalization efforts. Houses in some areas, including the West Side and the South Side’s Idora neighborhood, have seen prices jump from $50,000 to $145,000.

“Anything in a historic or revitalization area is really selling,” she says.

Since beginning its work, YNDC has put more than 100 renovated properties into the hands of buyers, Sokol reports. It is putting the finishing touches on an Idora house it bought for $14,000 about two years ago, one of five bank-owned properties it bought.

Subsidized with funding from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh, the redevelopment corporation put about $120,000 into the property, which it will list for $100,000, Sokol says. A comparable property might have fetched $65,000 “on a good day” just two years ago.  

The rise in prices has made inner-city properties less attractive to out-of-town investors, who want a quick return on their purchases and aren’t interested in $90,000 houses. That’s fine with Dillon.

“We don’t want them,” she says. Now, local people who will have pride in ownership have the opportunity to purchase these houses.   

The perception is changing, in part because of the work being done by YNDC and its partners, which is “what we’ve been working toward,” Sokol says.

“Its not just changing the perception but changing the physical landscape, not only by renovating the homes that we’re able to – vacant homes for sale and for rent – but the owner-occupied work we do repairing homes in the neighborhoods for folks who are low income,” she says.

“Each of those investments is building the market. It goes beyond just that direct investment of putting on a new roof or renovating a home because we’re building people’s confidence in their neighborhoods,” she adds. Because there’s no longer a vacant house next door, their property value has increased and now they have the confidence and a reason to invest in their home.”   

All YNCD properties that are for sale are restricted to owner-occupants, Sokol says. When grant funds are utilized in the renovation, the sale often will be restricted to a buyer who has an income limit or has to meet other requirements.

When YNDC began its work on Lanterman Avenue a decade ago, it struggled to get $30,000 for three fully renovated houses on that street. Today, a sale is pending for a comparable property on that street for $90,000.

Pictured: Tiffany Sokol says inner-city houses in good shape sell within days.