Demand for homes rises dramatically

August 04, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Houses are in such demand in West Virginia's Berkeley and Jefferson counties that real estate brokers say it is possible to have a contract on a house within hours after it is put on the market.

In some cases, two or more buyers are bidding up the price of houses, real estate agents say.

In some cases, the bidding increases the asking price for the houses by between 2 percent and 4 percent, said Brian Masemer, an agent with RE/MAX Real Estate Group in Martinsburg.

Agents say the trend isn't expected to let up any time soon.

Brokers say they see a constant stream of people coming to the Eastern Panhandle to take advantage of lower home prices, lower taxes and a good interstate system that allows them to easily commute to work in nearby states.


"This area is what is making the market," said Tillie Spies, associate broker for Coldwell Banker Premier Properties in Martinsburg.

Brokers in Berkeley County say houses priced at about $210,000 and less are selling the fastest.

Once they are placed on the market, agents can start getting calls from interested buyers "within minutes," Spies said.

"Within hours, we can have a contract," Spies said.

Houses being placed on the market are put on a computer list, and agents are scanning the lists regularly to find houses in which their clients might be interested, said Spies, who sells homes with her partner, Jim Seibert.

The pace at which houses sell slows some as the prices rise toward $300,000, but they will still sell within a relatively quick period, agents said.

Going fast

The average number of days houses in Berkeley County have stayed on the market has decreased about 18 percent between 2002 and the first six months of 2003, according to a real estate trend indicator compiled by Metro Regional Information Systems.

In 2002, a house was on the market an average of 95 days and this year that number dropped to 78 days, according to the indicator.

In Jefferson County, the average number of days on the market for a home went from 106 days last year to 57 days this year, about a 46 percent decrease.

The average sale price of a home in Berkeley County increased from $124,405 to $145,435 during the time period, about a 17 percent increase, the indicator said.

In Jefferson County, the average home sale price increased from $184,745 to $224,555 between last year and this year, about a 21.5 percent increase, the indicator said.

Location, location

It appears that all areas of Berkeley County are attractive, Spies said. Houses in the west end of Martinsburg, such as on West King Street, seem to be sought after the most. The West King Street area, which is characterized by large, stately homes, is especially attractive to retired people because it is close to nearby retail areas and downtown, Spies said.

"We can't keep a house in the west end of Martinsburg," Spies said.

Rufus Burton looked at a house in the nearby Stone Point subdivision and made an offer on it an hour after he walked through it.

Burton said he acted quickly on the home because it was what he wanted and he knew it wouldn't last long.

Burton, who is moving to Martinsburg to be a minister at the city's First Presbyterian Church, said his house was on the market 12 hours when he looked at it.

Northern migration

Many of the people relocating to the area are coming for jobs in the northern Virginia area, where "" companies are beginning to make a rebound, said Doug Montgomery, broker with Keller Williams Rice Realty in Martinsburg. About half of the newcomers in Berkeley County lease an apartment for about six months to a year while they get acquainted with the area and decide where they want to live, Montgomery said.

Sales of existing homes continue at a brisk pace, even in light of the large number of new homes being built in Berkeley and Jefferson counties, agents say.

Montgomery said the only situation that he believes might slow down the market - and only a "tiny bit" - is the fact that there has been a slight increase in unemployment among college graduates. That may affect their ability to buy their first home, Montgomery said.

Two years ago, real estate agents began seeing people bidding up prices of homes in the Shepherdstown, W.Va., area.

Jackie Lewis, an agent for Greentree Realtors in Shepherdstown, said the high demand has not let up.

"We all have so many buyers. When something does come up, people are fighting over it," Lewis said.

Effect on schools

The strong interest in the Eastern Panhandle has at least one school official concerned about how the public education system can serve the growing population.

Patrick Murphy, a member of the Berkeley County Board of Education, said his fellow board member, Rick Pill, recently shared information that showed land prices shot up dramatically in the Eastern Panhandle area after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

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