Pocono home sales ‘through the roof’

Maria Francis, Pocono Record//August 25, 2020

Pocono home sales ‘through the roof’

Maria Francis, Pocono Record//August 25, 2020

Monroe County’s real estate market is on par with the country’s constrained inventory of homes and a healthy buyer demand that shows little sign of waning.

“This is the first time in a long time that I remember seeing more residential listings in Monroe County under contract than actively listed,” said Nicole Murray, Association Executive of Pocono Mountain Association of Realtors. “With 943 homes currently pending and only 659 houses available to be shown, we expect that trend to continue for the foreseeable future.”

According to PMAR, despite the pandemic’s significant economic impact and unemployment rates, home buyers remain extremely resilient. With mortgage rates remaining near record-low levels and home purchase mortgage applications up from a year ago, high buyer activity is expected to continue into the late summer and early fall market.

New listings in Monroe County were up 7.7% to 474 while pending sales increased 102.4% to 581. Inventory shrunk 56.7% to 723 units, and prices gazed upward as the median sales price was up 12.9% to $180,695. Days on the market increased 55.6% to 112 days. Months supply of inventory was down 60% to 2.6 months, the 10th consecutive month of year-over-year declines.

John “J.R.” Rutkowsky Jr., president of PMAR, claims the shutdown brought everything to a standstill, and yet offers were coming in on homes “sight unseen.” While this would be considered unusual, these are unusual and unprecedented times.

When the Realtors were finally able to get back to work, Rutkowsky likened it to Governor shooting off a starter’s pistol – everyone was off and running to keep pace with the demand.

“The number of homes available for sale remains very low, in fact we have been hovering at about one-third of what we normally have for inventory,” said Rutkowsky. “Some areas have more homes ‘under contract’ or ‘pending’ than are available for sale. As homes come to market, they are continuing to sell sooner rather than later and with that prices have gone up and are still rising.”

Thomas Wilkens, CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Wilkens & Associates said the market is “through the roof.”

Pending Sales 287 | 581

Closed Sales 283 | 418

Median Sales Price $160,000 | $180,695

Avg sales price $175,259 | $202,121

Homes for sale 1,668 | 723

“In my 40 years of real estate, I’ve never seen the number of pending in the MLS exceed the inventory,” Wilkens said. “That’s incredible.”

Wilkens claims the driving force behind these numbers is the mass exodus from New York and New Jersey.

“The pandemic and the violence in the boroughs is what customers are trying to get away from,” he said.

Realtors are beyond busy while adhering to guidelines, but the biggest obstacle appears to be inventory. Wilkens described a perfect storm: when interest rates are low, buyers want to buy, and lenders are fairly aggressive in lending.

Wilkens also mentioned that buyers are now required to have a pre-approval before going out to look at a house. This is because there are multiple offers with “highest and best” on almost every listing competing against other buyers.

“I feel bad for our local kids, because highest and best bidding is not something we want to get our locals in when it’s their first purchase,” lamented Wilkens. “They’re left a little bit to the rear, often competing against a more affluent buyer that might have more means than that local first time buyer. I’m chairperson of the Act 137 First Time Home Buyer program. It makes me feel bad for them, but I can’t change the market.”

The tight housing market is having a huge impact on home builders that are scurrying to meet demand among pandemic-induced shortages of their own.

“It’s been crazy, we recently had over 25 appointments in a weekend,” said Robert Brown, President of RGB Custom Home Builders. “It’s all we can do to stay on top of it right now with so many people. We are a custom home builder, not a mass-production.”

Touting 35 years of building in the Poconos, Brown claims this level of interest and sales is beyond any other time frame, including the build up to the housing bubble of 2008. He was already forecasting a big year for the business before the COVID-19 pandemic; it was supposed to be their biggest year yet.

After the three-month shutdown, there was an onslaught of new business and with it, new challenges.

“We are having huge supply issues, there’s back orders of lumber,” said Brown. “We can’t get treated lumber, can’t get a lot of trim material, just huge shortages on all kinds of material. I ordered a lock for a house and got it three and half months later. My deck guy had to go to four different lumber yards to get lumber for one deck.”

Brown explained that many factories shut down completely during the pandemic, meaning over three months of production stopped. COVID-19 has caused a shortage in plywood, pressure treated wood and two-by-fours.

RGB Home Builders has a strong local base, but right now it is makes up about 30-35% of business. The larger percentage is coming from New Jersey and New York customers.

“They all say the same thing – ‘we need some space,’” said Brown. “A lot of these people were living in small rentals in the city and were just on top of each other, then COVID-19 happened and they were trapped in their apartments for months and now they just want out … they need more space.”

As a result of COVID-19, many companies are no longer requiring people to come into an office or physical building. They no longer have a commute. In essence, commuting to work is no longer an obstacle in relocating to the Poconos.

Rutkowsky is not sure how long things will continue on like this, but said his Realtors will stand ready to help home buyers and sellers navigate this ever changing market.

Regarding the possibility of a second wave, Rutkowsky said, “I’m not sure if anyone is really prepared for that, but we will do what we have to do to comply with any new guidelines. If we all listen to the medical professionals, we can get through this.”

Murray said members are working harder and smarter than ever, doing everything they need to do and then some, to follow the Governor’s orders and hopes that if things do flare up again that the contact tracing will be able to provide the data needed to support the industry’s commitment to safety and well being of all parties involved in the home sale process.