Region sees upward trend in house sales, values

SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN — The stay-at-home orders experienced across the country may have triggered a house buying wave in consumers.

Recent reports on the real estate market across the country have shone a light on southwest Michigan, especially including locations in Berrien and Cass counties, as markets are on the rise despite COVID-19 limitations.

According to a report from the Southwestern Michigan Association of Realtors at the end of August, sales rose up to 51 percent from June in July.

In an Insurify report, Niles was named 11th out of 20 cities with “the greatest pandemic real estate booms.” The report showed an average rate of monthly home sales during quarantine to be 45.83 percent, an average of 275 new listings per month and a median sales price of $224,000 in July.

Nest Realty owner/broker, and board director-at-large on the Southwestern Michigan Association of Realtors, Tammy Anders confirmed there has been a rise in home sales, but questioned the methodology of the numbers showing huge booms in the area.

“When [we] saw those numbers, it was just really an inaccurate portrayal,” Anders said. “[The market] had a backlog. Nationwide, other cities and states were allowed to work.”

In Michigan, realtors were not under the “essential worker” umbrella. During the heaviest mandates of the Stay Home, Stay Safe executive orders from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, realtors could not show homes to sell them. When the state opened back up for realtors, the sales that had begun happened swiftly.

During April and May, Anders said the number of residential closed sales were down from 2019 by between 19 and 31 percent from the Niles and Buchanan markets, but up to 27 percent down for the entire southwest Michigan region.

By the time things could get started again, the bottleneck of properties began to catch back up in July. The market was only down by 12 percent residential closed sales from 2019 for the region by the end of July.

In the most recent reports for August 2020 from the SWMAR, the year to date average sales price of residential closed sales in Buchanan to Niles properties was up just 5 percent from 2019. Overall, for the entire southwest Michigan market, properties had risen an average of 18 percent in average sales price.

Anders said real estate in the Niles and Buchanan areas specifically has been on the rise since 2017, when she said she believes most people recovered financially from the Great Recession. Today, there are many factors she sees in the local market driving an upward trend in property prices, properties listed and properties sold.

“We still have consumer confidence,” Anders said. “We have really low interest rates. We have really low unemployment. Rental rates are on the rise, because there aren’t as many rentals as there are people coming to our area.”

Anders has also seen a shift in who is buying property in the southwest Michigan market.

“I would say 90 percent of our business is still local folks moving from the local area,” Anders said. “But people are coming from Arizona, Illinois, Florida and California.”

With the location of Niles, Buchanan, St. Joseph, Dowagiac, Edwardsburg, Cassopolis and other cities throughout the region, Anders thinks people are finding new priorities and reasons to relocate to these cities and towns.

“So many people are now realizing they can work from home,” Anders said. “Companies are seeing that it’s not as bad as they thought it would be.”

The environment is desirable to buyers, both local and out of state, she said.

“It’s temperate here. It’s very affordable. We have lots of beautiful nature in our state. The Great Lakes — if you look at a map of America, Lake Michigan is like an inland ocean,” Anders said.

The lake properties have seen an increase in sales as well, according to Anders. Whereas large lake properties might have sat on the market for months before lowering prices in the past, she said she is seeing properties in communities like New Buffalo sell at asking price, or above, within days of being listed.

For the Niles and Buchanan housing markets, the housing properties have seen an increase in sale price. On average, the Niles housing market is around $162,000.

“I really believe it is inching up,” Anders said.

As Niles and Buchanan transition from “blue collar” cities to “bedroom communities,” Anders believes by the end of the year the average property sales rate will have risen to between 7 and 10 percent.

“When we had our lockdown and stay-at-home orders, more people were taking comfort in their homes,” Anders said. “They’re wanting to make their homes more ‘staycation’-y. We are seeing more of that, and it’s only going to increase our [property] values.”

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