Residential real estate ‘still a buyer’s market’ — Although prices vary by region, home sales strong across Centre County, especially in resales

lfalce@centredaily.comFebruary 9, 2014 

The way in which people buy houses is personal. Will it fit my family? Will it serve my needs? Will it accommodate my style?

But when and how people buy houses also says a lot about the economy.

According to Mark Bigatel, managing broker and partner at Kissinger, Bigatel and Brower, the real estate picture at his firm is optimistic.

“Our recovery started in 2012 and continued stronger in 2013,” he said.

He said his firm’s sales were up by 115 units last year, a 10.7 percent increase from the year before. The average sale price climbed 18 percent, with some of that increase coming from an uptick in higher-priced homes, which had fallen off after the 2008 market recession.

“We’re also starting to see a move-up market,” said Bigatel, who noted that buyers are beginning to dream big and trade starter homes for something more luxurious.

KBB marketing manager Liz Piazza said she also is starting to see those sales become more competitive, with bidding situations and prime houses staying on the market for a very short time.

At Re/Max Centre Realty, Eric Hurvitz said more of the activity is coming in the resale market but that new construction is beginning to see a return in certain areas of the county.

S&A Homes communities such as Foxpointe and Hunter’s Chase are seeing growth as the market begins to correct itself, industry leaders said.

Hurvitz said Bellefonte and surrounding areas are becoming a hotspot for new construction, because land there is less expensive than in the State College market, but the location is still convenient for Centre Region employment.

“People still want to be close,” he said.

That doesn’t mean that outlying areas of the county aren’t seeing growth, too.

Resale is king in Philipsburg, where the affordability of the homes drives some buyers, particularly those looking to maximize their housing dollars, to make a longer commute in exchange for lower prices.

Ed Reiter Jr., of Realty World Reiter Agency, said the average sale price in the Moshannon Valley, according to multilist reports, is $91,000. For about that, you can get a currently listed four-bedroom, two-bath, 2,600-square-foot brick home in the heart of Philipsburg, with off-street parking. The closest comparable property in State College comes in at $139,900, with the average sale price being $270,000.

That may be why KBB is seeing growth in areas outside the Centre Region. Bigatel’s numbers show a 30.88 percent jump in Philipsburg sales from his office in 2013, and 19.64 percent more in the Bald Eagle Area School District.

He expects to see those numbers continue to rise in 2014, but more gradually.

“And that’s what you want. You don’t want another bubble,” he said, referring to the artificially inflated market that burst in 2008 and precipitated economic problems.

Piazza does see one problem with the current market: Not enough houses.

She said inventory on homes listed for sale is low at the moment as owners wait until spring to put properties on the market. While spring is traditionally a good time to list real estate, she often recommends listing a property when supply is down and homes might sell sooner.

“It is still a buyer’s market,” said Hurvitz, who points to interest rates that remain low for mortgages while the economy still works on recovery.

Those rates make it more affordable for buyers, especially first-time buyers, to get a good price on a home that would have been out of reach a few years ago.

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