Real Estate

Valley’s Price is Right for Upscale Homes

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Real estate agents are mixed on the market for upscale housing in the Mahoning Valley, although a few niche areas seem to be driving sales.

Sales closed on upscale homes are up about 20% for Keller Williams Chervenic Realty, Boardman, with buyers driven heavily by neighborhoods and communities, says agent Adam Matthews. While local buyers opt for the larger estates, some out-of-town buyers are eyeing lakefront properties as vacation homes, he says.

Buyers in the Mahoning Valley purchasing homes from $500,000 up to more than $1 million typically want to use their home as their “Disney house” in lieu of a vacation home, says Alicia Kosec, northeast regional vice president of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services. Thus, those buyers might be driven more by amenities than the size of the house, she says.

“It becomes their home, their movie theater, their bar,” she says. “Especially this time of year, they want to enjoy the summer time. We’re seeing that market definitely pick up.”

In Columbiana County, economic development in the oil and gas industry, as well as the construction of the Royal Dutch Shell ethane “cracker” plant in Beaver County, Pa., are driving buyers relocating to the area to look for upscale houses, says Marlin Palich, general manager and principal broker for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Northwood Realty Services. Palich says he’s seeing buyers particularly from western Pennsylvania moving to Columbiana County where the cost of living is lower and they are able to commute to work.

“Those houses in that price range are seeing action. There’s more employment because of gas and oil and cracker plants,” Palich says.

Kate Oesch agrees. The agent at the Salem office of Keller Williams Chervenic Realty has a listing on Bell School Road in East Liverpool for $575,000, which she says could likely go for as much as $1.5 million in the Pittsburgh or Cleveland areas.

Along with commuters, Oesch says transplants from even farther outside of the area are also good buyers to target. Whether someone is in the military or works from home, “They can live anywhere in the country,” she says. It’s just a matter of letting them know of the opportunity for a more affordable, upscale lifestyle.

“Not everybody moves because they want to or have to. Sometimes they buy it because they didn’t know it was available,” Oesch says. “I have spent about $1,500 on marketing on this property. If the real estate agent isn’t willing to spend money to market a seller’s property, they should look for another realtor.”

The city of Columbiana is seeing a boost in home construction as well through its community reinvestment area initiative, which provides a 15-year tax abatement for homebuyers who build new, says Patrick Burgan, co-owner of Burgan Real Estate. Last year, the city saw more than 40 contracts signed for new-home builds, he says.

“The leadership is there to promote and do business, and it’s showing,” agrees Berkshire Northwood’s Palich.

Columbiana County draws a different type of upscale-house buyer than perhaps Mahoning and Trumbull counties, says Keller Williams’ Oesch. Whereas buyers in Canfield or Poland opt for gated communities and exclusive neighborhoods because “people with that kind of money want people to see where they live,” most homebuyers who choose to “live out of sight” are drawn to rural properties in Columbiana County, she says. 

“There are a lot more country-like properties. We might see a $700,000 house on 22 acres,” she says. “You can’t see it from the road.”

While upscale houses in Columbiana County are seeing more action, sales in Mahoning and Trumbull counties are stagnant, Palich says. As areas near Cleveland enjoy a “tremendous renaissance,” Mahoning and Trumbull counties won’t see those upscale sales pick back up until employment issues are addressed, he observes. 

Howard Hanna’s Kosec disagrees. The market had been flat for the last few years, she acknowledges, but says buyers who can afford such houses have increased about 25%.

In developments such as Olde Charted Trail, Poland, where the agency just listed a property with more than 6,500 square feet for $1.55 million, upscale houses are being sought after by physicians moving to the area to work at Mercy Health or Akron Children’s Hospital, or other professionals who commute, Kosec says. Leaders from Youngstown State University are also eyeing the bigger ticket houses. Another house the agency has listed in Canfield for $1.2 million has backup offers, she says.

“These buyers are local, living in $500,000 to $700,000 homes currently,” she says. “They are doctors and business owners and see the houses as a good investment.”

Some of the houses sell without being listed, Kosec says. When buyers have a particular taste, she connects them with available houses without putting them on a multiple-listing service, she says.

Many of the upscale properties get extra exposure on special-listing services that cater specifically to buyers of luxury houses. Those houses are then advertised through national media channels, such as The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, and employ top-dollar marketing tactics, such as aerial photography, drone tours and professional video production, agents say.

Last year, Keller Williams sold 12 upscale properties in the tri-county area, up from four in 2017, Matthews says. This year, the agency is on track to sell 15. It recently sold a 5,000-square-foot ski chalet-style ranch on 42 acres in Trumbull County for $1.175 million.

In addition to exclusive developments, lakefront properties are proving popular right now, particularly in Lake Milton, Matthews says. People from outside the area seeking weekend residences buy about 25% of those houses during the summer, he says.

Typically those buyers are baby boomers whose children are out of school and are on their own, says Sue Filipovich, co-owner at Burgan, “and they want to retire by water.” Buyers either renovate what is there or buy more than one lot and tear down the houses on them to build larger houses, 3,000 square feet and up, she says.

Not all big-ticket sales are for “McMansions,” Burgan adds, as many buyers are “opting for a smaller footprint,” but adding high-end finishes to the smaller houses. He sees some younger families purchasing older houses that have character and upgrading them.

“With some of these homes being so affordable, people can reasonably buy them and renovate them to their tastes and put on all these finishing touches that are absolutely phenomenal,” he says.

Custom upgrades can include anything from knocking down a wall to having an open floor plan and adding outdoor entertainment features, such as kitchens, fireplaces and paver stone patios, Filipovich says. Agents are also seeing more one-off rooms being added, such as theater rooms, wine cellars and finished basements.

“It’s all about entertaining and keeping up with the Joneses,” Burgan says.

Pictured: Buyers are investing in homes with a backyard oasis, Alicia Kosec says. This property in Poland features an in-ground salt water pool and fully stocked pond.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.