Buyers looking, but few homes available

By David J. Coehrs -

Whalen Realty and Auction in Wauseon is among the area companies suffering a shortage of homes to show prospective buyers.

Whalen Realty and Auction in Wauseon is among the area companies suffering a shortage of homes to show prospective buyers.

David J. Coehrs | AIM Media Midwest

The pace of the local realty market may have slowed since the coronavirus pandemic emerged but it’s due to a lack of homes rather than effort.

The number of available houses actually decreased prior to the COVID-19 outbreak but the rampaging virus has put an even greater crimp in the inventory. And all at a time when demand hasn’t waned.

Prior to COVID the real estate market was “very good, very hot, very much a seller’s market,” said Richard Perkins, an agent for Oak Valley Realtors in Swanton. A shortage of housing led to fast deals, often within a few weeks of listing a property. “Uptick in price, uptick in value, and quick sale was going on before COVID,” Perkins said.

While the hunger for available homes hasn’t changed since the coronavirus outbreak, the lack of available properties has caused something of a bidding war among prospective buyers.

“We’re seeing houses sell within days, if not hours,” Perkins said. “We can sell them for very good money in a very short amount of time. It’s probably the strongest sellers market I’ve seen in 39 years of selling real estate in Swanton.”

The bullish realty market can be attributed to the shortage of listings and interest rates of about 3%, he said.

A listing he placed July 29 resulted in six showings over the ensuing 24 hours. “We are getting just as many buyers today, if not more, than we were pre-COVID despite escalating prices,” Perkins said. “The highest bidder wins.”

Forty-four homes in all price ranges, with many listed as contigent, are currently for sale within the 43558 zip code, as compared to a typical number of nearly 50. Ten years ago, more than 100 were on the market.

Perkins said the shortage of available homes may be due, in part, to a reluctance to sell during the pandemic. He said sellers may not be comfortable allowing prospective buyers to tour their properties.

“People are afraid of having strangers into their home. So if they didn’t have to sell they’re shying away from the market for awhile, causing an even further shortage of housing,” he said.

His sales are down by half for the year, but he’s managing to hang on. He said part of the blame for the house shortage could be placed on the 2008 recession.

“When you don’t build homes for five years you fall way behind, and we are still behind from 2013,” Perkins said. “To catch up with this market is going to take a lot of construction and a lot of people wanting to sell their houses.”

He’s confident, however, that with reported advances in the development of a coronavirus vaccine the housing market could pick up by next spring. Until then, “there are a lot of buyers and very few sellers,” he said.

June home sales in the state, according to the latest statistics available from Ohio REALTORS, totaled 15,036, a 1.2% decrease from sales recorded a year earlier. Sales were down 5.8% for the first half of 2020, as compared to the same period in 2019. Sales from January to June this year totaled 68,476, down from 72,678 during the same time in 2019.

The average home price in June was $230,054, an 8.9% increase from the $211,229 total posted in June last year. The average sales price for the first six months of 2020 reached $203,696, a 6.7 percent increase over the same period last year.

Statewide, 14 of 16 markets that were followed reported an increase in the average June sales price; 11 of the markets recorded gains in activity.

Compiled by Multiple Listing Services, the information included residential closings for condominiums, co-ops, and single-family homes.

“The Ohio housing marketplace, which experienced a significant decline in sales activity since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, regained its footing somewhat in June,” Ohio REALTORS President Chris Reese said in a statement. “It’s a positive sign that sales activity nearly matched levels from a year ago, while also posting gains in the average sales price across the state…The market’s return to normalcy is a clear indication that consumers appreciate that housing is a solid, long-term investment.”

The coronavirus hasn’t really affected the residential side of Whalen Realty and Auction in Wauseon, according to broker Mike Murray said. Commercial and retail listings are another story.

“It’s had a considerable impact,” Murray said. “All the businesses have been impacted. People have been reluctant to get out and shop.”

Whalen Realty and Auction typically maintains about 20 listings across Fulton County. They include lots and retail space, and Murray usually closes on four or five over three or four months. Presently, he has 12 commercial properties for sale and has leased a couple of buildings, but in that time he hasn’t sold anything.

“The activity’s been really, really slow,” Murray said. “It’s just a matter of economics for those who own buildings to recover. They’ve been impacted pretty dramatically.”

Whalen Realty has been buoyed during the pandemic by strong activity within its auction business. “It has offset our real estate business tremendously. It’s hard to keep up with the auction business,” Murray said.

As for residential sales, “I don’t know anybody that’s suffering,” he said. “The people I know in the business are extremely busy.”

Home sales may have taken a slight hit after the pandemic emerged, but people still need housing and the demand is there, Murray said. The difficulty comes with too many buyers and not nearly enough properties. The deficiency has caused prices to inflate up to 10%, but Murray said that isn’t discouraging people.

“We’re getting multiple offers on most of them,” he said, adding that under favorable conditions a house can be sold in as few as 10 days.

At Amerimade Realty in Archbold, agent Cindy Gustwiller said lots of people don’t want to show their houses during the pandemic. “But when one pops up it goes pretty quickly because there’s not a lot of competition out there,” she said.

She’s takes personal care while showing homes, which includes wearing a mask and gloves. When a door or cabinet needs to be opened, Gustwiller takes the lead to protect prospective buyers. Through a contract with the Toledo Board of Realtors, Amerimade clients and home sellers are screened in the event they have visited outside of the country or may have been exposed by someone to COVID-19.

As a grandmother, Gustwiller said when the pandemic began she was frightened and didn’t want to show homes.

“I am still scared,” she said. “I just take a lot of precautions. I don’t go unprotected but you just never know. You just hope and pray.”

Gustwiller presently has about seven homes listed, down from her average of about 15. She has closed on about 10 houses since COVID-19 emerged, and has seven contingent to close.

“There are buyers out there. I’m still busy, just not as many listings,” she said. “I have more buyers than sellers right now. Because there’s not that much competition, there are several (homes) that I know had multiple offers, and they went over the asking price. It’s also good for the buyers because the interest rates are so good. People look, and they better jump on it quick or they’re going to lose out.”

A home sale can traditionally take several months, but she said she can get an offer within a week or a month.

Gustwiller has sold 16 houses since January, down from her typical sales of between 25-30. She said real estate agents across Fulton County are experiencing a decline.

“I’ve still been very blessed. I was hurting in the beginning, but it’s not as much now. We are still selling and buying property,” she said.

Whalen Realty and Auction in Wauseon is among the area companies suffering a shortage of homes to show prospective buyers. Realty and Auction in Wauseon is among the area companies suffering a shortage of homes to show prospective buyers. David J. Coehrs | AIM Media Midwest

By David J. Coehrs

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.