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Pocono Realtor Sees Light at the End of the Tunnel

August 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Light at end of tunnel for local real estate
By WAYNE WITOWSKI
For the Pocono Record
July 25, 2010

When Commonwealth Real Estate Your Way LLC announced recently its third office opening in 16 months, in Brodheadsville, it might seem surprising, coming in the midst of a recession whose recovery appears to be slowing.

Washington is extending unemployment benefits to those long out of work, although unemployment nationwide dropped slightly to 9.5 percent in the latest statistics, its lowest point in a year. Mortgage rates early in July dropped to their lowest point in five years, when the average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage dropped to 4.57 percent, according to Freddie Mac.

But with the Homebuyer Tax Credit extension expired April 30, giving a first-time buyer an $8,000 credit and a current homeowner a $6,500 credit, the market was expected to slip heading into the peak season in the Poconos.

But Commonwealth broker/owner Vickie Brockelman and officers at other real estate agencies agree they feel the free fall is slowing, an indicator of a healing economy.

“In July of last year, we had 11 agents, and now we have 23 agents and three offices,” said Brockelman, who has added a Stroudsburg office to her Mount Pocono headquarters.

“If I didn’t have confidence in my agents and the market, I would not go from one location to three. I believe the market is stable. Realtors are willing to work at it and are willing to be successful and work extremely hard.”

Brockelman said she feels the market “is steady and has stabilized, and I think it will continue.”

“From 2009 to now, we actually have a 10 percent increase in sales,” said Brockelman, who added that her listed homes have had a $138,900 average sale price, mostly as primary homes. “June to July has been our best month since 2006.”

And Brockelman feels the tax credits helped.

“Tax incentives had an impact. It brought home-buying back into people’s minds, to look, and some are still looking because this is the market to buy.”

Brockelman showed a graphic survey of the Poconos real estate market where the average time from listing to sale has gone down from a high of 33.5 months in February this year to 16.5 months in June.

Maggie Flartey, oversees 12 offices for Century 21 Select in Monroe, Pike, Wayne and Luzerne counties, with a headquarters in Blakeslee, said she is “cautiously optimistic” looking at the recovery. “It’s better than last year. “ยป There’s a lot of catchup to do, but it’s starting to turn around.”

“Overall, our closed units are up 3 percent from last year,” Flartey said. “Last year was dramatic, down 35 percent from the year before. We had a lot of catching up to do, but we’re starting to turn around.” Last year, closed units was 35 percent lower than the previous year.

Dominick Sacci, vice president of Wilkins and Associates Better Homes and Gardens, said his closed sales are up 21 percent from the previous year, when they plunged deeply.

“Pendings sales were up 20 percent in April, 5 percent in May, and are down 7 percent in June,” said Sacci. “This answers the question: Was the Homebuyer Tax Credit stimulating the real estate market? The answer is, yes.”

Flartey disagreed, because she said that nearly 70 percent of her buying market is for second homes and said other competing agencies in the area have a similar ratio, “so were not able to generate a lot of business from first-time home buyers. The few who did were enthralled with the (Homebuyer Tax Credit) program ,but it did not dramatically affect us, unfortunately. I wish it would have.”

But she did agree that, “We definitely did not see in the first half of this year the activity it sparked in the last quarter of last year, and then a clear dropoff when it ended. It’s exactly what we envisioned.”

Flartey said her office set up buyer seminars and sent postcards to renters to stimulate her market with little results. But she said she is glad that her company did not need to close any offices.

“When I saw (other companies’) offices close, it was difficult, but we’ve managed to maintain 12 offices and stay viable. It was tough,” said Flartey. “But when there is a turnaround, we’re in a key spot, there’s not a lot of competition.”

Sacci had anticipated a stabilization last fall and saw things actually worsen early this year.

“In January, I said property values stabilized and plummeted to $131,413. I was scared. It looked like there was no bottom, and then you worry about the free fall, but since February, it’s trickled up to an average price of $158,043; last year it was $158,422. If that continues, and it’s my gut feeling is it will, price values will be stabilized in the Poconos.”

Brockelman shared his enthusiasm and said, “perhaps some increase in sale price will come in 2011 and 2012.”

Flartey said her listings are down only 1 percent and said the average sale price has dropped from $156,000 to about $140,000, but the median average listing price has risen from $180,000 to $204,000.

“That’s surprising,” she said. “Maybe it’s higher-end properties, but people are getting more realistic competing with foreclosures on the market if they want to sell.”

All three see a slow recovery in the economy starting in 2011, which will set the tone for a slow rebound in real estate as well.

“We should definitely see an increase in property values by next year,” Sacci said. “Our prediction from here is, now that we have gotten through July 4 weekend, when buyers start to come up to visit family, we would hope to see buyer activity increase. But for the rest of this year, it’s a wait and see. Nobody knows.”

Vickie M. Brockelman, GRI, Epro
Broker/Owner RB#066680
Commonwealth Real Estate Your Way, LLC
26 C Pocono Blvd.
Mt. Pocono, PA
570-839-0411 (office number)
570-839-0415 (fax number)
570-972-0141 (direct line)

Learn more about Vickie Brockelman


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