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House values soaring in Shepherdstown

June 17, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Real estate agent Greg Didden knows how strong the market has been in Shepherdstown in recent years, but he said a deal made in his office last November left him dumbfounded.

The owner of an attractive, two-story house at the corner of Church and West German streets listed his house with Greg Didden Realtors for $310,000. The first day it was listed, the owner received two bids for the full asking price, Didden said.

The owner told the two bidders to make their best counter offer, and each of them offered almost $17,500 more for the house.

The owner decided he did not want to bid up the price anymore, so he offered both people the chance to draw the highest number in a deck of playing cards to determine which one got the house, Didden said.

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One drew a four, and the other drew a 10, giving him the house, Didden said.

"If that would not have happened in my office in front of me, I would have said that is the most bizarre story I have ever heard," Didden said.

Shepherdstown real estate agent Jackie Lewis said demand for homes in the quaint Potomac River village has been steadily increasing in recent years, but this year marks the first time she has seen so-called "bidding wars" for houses.

Some bidding wars have increased the asking price of homes by up to $5,000, Realtors said.Lewis, an agent for Greentree Realtors, said she has handled about six home sales this year on which two or more people have placed competing bids. In some cases, the owner will offer counter bids and tell each of the bidders that whoever gives the best deal gets the house, Lewis said.

"It could be cash and close in a week," he said.

Buyers paying cash for homes in town has not been unusual, Lewis said.

Homeowners from the Washington and northern Virginia area are selling homes for upward of $600,000 and coming to Shepherdstown and picking up a home for half that price, Lewis said.

The increased demand for housing has been felt in other parts of the Eastern Panhandle, said David Parsons, a Realtor for Brawner and Associates in Charles Town.

Parsons said he sold a home for which three people were bidding in Berkeley County's Bunker Hill Friday. The asking price was $88,900, and the buyer who ended up with the house paid $1,000 more, Parsons said.

Parsons said one theory for the trend is that there is a shortage of homes in the Washington area and homebuyers are looking in the Tysons Corner, Va., area, Frederick County, Md., and West Virginia for a house to buy, said Parsons.

Parsons said it is a "ripple effect, and we are becoming a part of it."

There are varying reasons for Shepherstown's increasing popularity, Lewis said.

The town has been getting a reputation for being one of the best small towns to live in and for being one of the most popular retirement spots. Shepherd College has consistently been ranked as offering one of the best deals for higher education, Lewis said.

Favorable write-ups about the town in Washington newspapers and magazines has also fueled the demand, Lewis said.

There are not enough homes in Shepherdstown for everyone who wants to move in, Realtors said.

Shepherdstown is a small community, and the residential area only covers about a seven- by four-block area, Didden said, adding that every real estate agent in town may have up to 10 people on a waiting list for homes. There are roughly 300 homes within the town limits.

Some homes are selling faster than others, Realtors said. Others are "terribly overpriced" and are not selling, some residents say.

Ray Eshelman did not have any problem with competing bids when he bought two houses on New Street in 1996 and 1998. But he has seen a quickly increasing interest in town properties this year.

Eshelman said he usually gets inquiries two or three times month from people wanting to know if he would be interested in selling a house he is leasing to tenants.

Eshelman, who is a member of the Shepherdstown Town Council, said one of the things that attracted him to the town was all the events and activities it offers.

Shepherdstown is the oldest town in the state, settled between 1730 and 1734. It has a thriving downtown area that includes a movie house, restaurants and cafes, art shops and inns.

"When I tell people they have their own orchestra, they say 'You have your own orchestra?' '' said Eshelman.

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