Shifting Real Estate

BY: Marcus Wolf
Consumer demand and savvy salesmanship have benefited home sellers in 2018 with faster turnarounds in some areas and a rise in price in others, but the north country real estate industry has yet to shift toward a sellers’ market.

                A sellers’ market typically occurs when demand is higher than supply, prompting higher prices, while a buyers’ market occurs when supply is higher than demand, yielding lower home prices, said Lance Evans, executive officer for the Jefferson-Lewis and St. Lawrence Board of Realtors.

                In Jefferson County, the number of homes sold during the first 11 months of 2018 was up from the same time in 2017, and the average number of days a home sat on the market was down. The median home price, however, remained relatively flat.  The median home price for the first 11 months of 2018 rose in Lewis and St. Lawrence counties from the same period in 2017, benefiting sellers. The number of homes sold dropped, and days on the market remain relatively high in both counties.

                Despite a few hurdles, some real estate salespeople remain optimistic about the future of the north country market when factoring in the upward trends. 

                “I think the market is still going to improve,” said Vickie Staie, broker and owner of Staie on the Seaway Real Estate Services LLC, Alexandria Bay.

                The average number of days a home sat on the market in Jefferson County fell during the first 11 months of 2018 from the same period in 2017 by 25 days, or 20.2 percent, from 124 days to 99 days, according to data provided by the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors. At the same time, home sales have increased by 14 units, or by 1.3 percent, from 1,049 units in 2017 to 1,063 units.

                Ms. Staie, who also owns Appraisals USA, Alexandria Bay, said she believes sellers have been pricing their homes more appropriately this year, particularly with the help from appraisers. Younger consumers have also entered the market, saving more money for down payments.

                Homes priced between $120,000 and $150,000 were popular in the area in 2018, attracting multiple offers per listing. More expensive waterfront homes have also been in demand, Ms. Staie said.

                “I think people are looking at renting versus buying and seeing that buying is a good option,” Mr. Evans said.

                The median home price in Jefferson County for the first 11 months of 2018, however, remained relatively flat from the same period in 2017. The price fell slightly by $1,000, or 0.7 percent, from $136,000 to $135,000. Foreclosure purchases have partially accounted for the lack of movement in home price, Mr. Evans said.

                A lack of homes in demand in the county has also attributed to the slight decline in median pricing, Ms. Staie said. More consumers typically want homes that are move-in ready, Ms. Staie said, with more popular units containing three to four bedrooms, two to three bathrooms and updated appliances.

                “We’ve got people looking for homes that just aren’t available right now,” she said.

                The Lewis County market experienced almost opposite trends to Jefferson County in 2018.

                The number of units sold during the first 11 months of 2018 in Lewis County declined from the same period in 2017 by 14 units, or 6.7 percent, from 210 to 196. The number of days a home spent on the market remained relatively flat in that time, decreasing slightly by 1 day, or 0.8 percent, from 126 days in 2017to 125 days.

                The median home price in Lewis County, however, jumped from the first 11 months of 2017 to the same period 2018 by $30,000, or 33.3 percent, from $90,000 to $120,000.

                “That’s definitely a plus for Lewis County, “said Brenda Malone, broker and owner of Homes Realty of Northern New York, Lowville.

                Agents in Lewis County sold less foreclosures than in Jefferson County, and less rental apartments are available than homes, which Mr. Evans said allowed the median price to climb. More seasonal cottages have also sold in the area, which brought the median price up for all properties during the first 11 months of 2018 up from the same period in 2017 by $15,000, or 18.6 percent, from $80,000 to $95,000.

                Despite not changing between 2017 and 2018, Mrs. Malone said the number of days a home spent on the market on average had dropped from 2016 and 2015, when they were 159 and 158 days respectively. Stronger working relationships between sellers and agents and simple touch-ups like a new coat of paint or rearranging furniture can increase consumer interest in properties, she said.

                “Sometimes, it’s just the little things that can make a difference,” she said.

                The median home price in St. Lawrence County during the first 11 months of 2018 was up from the same period in 2017 by $5,050, or 5.9 percent, from $85,000 to $90,050. Days on the market in the county fell by 20 days, or 10.2 percent, from 196 in 2017 to 176.

                Mr. Evans said the improving economy and broadband internet expansions into rural areas have supported steady growth in the area.  Jennifer Stevenson, broker and owner of Blue Heron Realty, Ogdensburg, said homes priced between $75,000 and $150,000 have sold in 150 days, or about five months, on average. Homes priced lower or higher than the median range were on the market closer to 200 days. 

                “That market is a little bit more brisk, busy and in demand,” she said. “I know there were properties I had listed in Canton that w   ere only on the market for two weeks.”

                The number of units sold in St. Lawrence County during the first 11 months of 2018, however, remained relatively flat from the same period in 2017, decreasing slightly by 2 units, or 0.3 percent, from 690 units in 2017 to 688.

                St. Lawrence County, like Jefferson County, has also dealt with a lack of inventory during 2018, Ms. Stevenson said, as more people have stayed in their home longer. She also said less government first-time homebuyer loans have been issued than in recent years.

                 “If there had been a little more inventory, we could have had more sales,” she said.

                The brokers are relatively optimistic about the future real estate markets in the north country. Ms Staie said buyers remain interested in purchasing homes. Mrs. Malone said she hopes to see the number of homes sold increase in Lewis County and average days on the market drop.

                “Hopefully over the next few years, we’ll gradually work our way back to a sellers’ market,” Mrs. Malone said. 

                Any changes in interest rates will affect home sale trends in St. Lawrence County, Mrs. Stevenson said. If interest rates fall, consumer demand will remain, but an increase could cause a dip in sales.

                “You don’t have highs and lows a lot of the time,” in St. Lawrence County, Mr. Evans said. “The market basically does go along at a steady pace.”