LEWISTOWN - Area real estate professionals are seeing improvement and growth in the Mifflin County housing market, with a general increase in sale prices and a decrease in time on the market.
"We've been very busy over the last year with lots of buyers and lots of sellers," said Kim Yoder Rickert, owner of Stone Arch Real Estate. "Things have been starting to sell faster and prices are stabilizing."
Rickert reports a number of recent instances where a property was sold in less than a month with more than one offer made, resulting in a sale of full asking price or higher.
Sentinel photo by BUFFIE BOYER
This house along Electric Avenue in Lewistown is listed for sale by Stone Arch Real Estate.
"A year ago, the average time on the market was over 120 days," Rickert said. "Now, it tends to be between 60 and 90 days."
The most likely reason for this progress, said Tom Heller, owner of Gold Key Real Estate in Lewistown, is the market's current low interest rates for home mortgages.
"You never know when interest rates will change, so people take advantage when they're good," Heller said. "As they start to inch up, people will move even faster on them."
According to Freddie Mac, a government-created organization that works to keep money flowing to mortgage lenders, as of Oct. 10 the average interest rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage was 4.23 percent, the lowest in four months.
However, the sale price and time a property spends on the market depends on its location, price and style more than the current interest rate, said Richard Smeltz, co-owner of Smeltz and Aumiller Real Estate in Lewistown.
"Absolutely, the market has been improving - this August was our best month in 10 years," Smeltz said. "And though there has been an increase in listings and sales, time on the market often depends completely on the property."
For example, Smeltz said his company recently sold a ranch style house in Pleasant Acres West. When the property was put up for sale, almost immediately there were five offers made on the house for at least the asking price, he said.
Comparatively, it took Smeltz and Aumiller three years to sell a house priced at $850,000 with 5,000 square feet and 59 acres. As a general rule, Smeltz said, homes priced at or above $300,000 with 3,000 square feet of space or more take longer to sell.
According to the Mifflin Juniata Multiple List Serve, the average sale price for Mifflin County homes has continued to steadily increase since 2009, growing from $85,000 to $99,271. And, Smeltz said, he continues to see increased demand for specific niche interests in the market.
Right now, there's a large need for building lots to further community development in Mifflin County, Smeltz said. Areas like Blossom Hills, in Lewistown, and Edgewood Estates, in Reedsville, are bright spots in the county, providing totally new homes with minimum upkeep, he said.
"I definitely see a demand for more building lots in Brown Township in the future," Smeltz said. "Especially with the Sheetz project, PennDOT moving and the possible asphalt plant. People are going to be looking for homes."
Another popular area in the market is investment properties, or foreclosures, Heller said. These homes can be purchased at a minimum price, fixed up until they qualify for financing and resold or rented out.
"Financial investments aren't providing the return that people are hoping for right now," Heller said. "But people can invest in a property to rent it out and get a guaranteed return each month. They're selling like hot cakes."
Generally, buyers are looking for one of two things, Rickert said. Either they're planning to downsize or they're looking for something bigger and better.
"What a buyer is looking for depends where they are in life," Rickert said. "The majority of buyers around here tend to be retirees trying to downsize or a couple looking to start a family. They each want something specific, but tend not to want a property that requires a lot of improvements."
Which means, Rickert said, that sellers need to make sure their home is move-in ready so it can sell faster and at a higher price.
"With buyers, first impressions count," Rickert said. "A small investment in time and money will give your home an edge over other listings in the area when the time comes
to show it to a prospective buyer."
Rickert suggests that sellers add some of the following to a to-do list to ensure buyer preference: paint the front door, update the mailbox, cut the lawn, clear the driveway of leaves, touch-up exterior paint, weed gardens, remove clutter from all rooms, shampoo carpets and clean bathrooms.
Sellers, and any pets, should be absent during showings, Rickert said. All the lights should be on, curtains opened and maybe some soft music playing. It's all about creating a happy buying atmosphere, she said.