Valley Real Estate Gets Hot - As seen in Volume One

Posted: 09.8.20

As seen in Volume One

The weather wasn’t the only thing hot in the Chippewa Valley this summer. So was the housing market.

After a disappointing spring, home sales have been at or near record levels this summer, with pent-up demand leading to low inventory and rising prices.

Statewide, July home sales were the highest for the month since at least 2005, and were 9.5% higher than the previous record, set in July 2019. “On a year-to-date basis, sales are now only slightly lower than this time last year,” the Wisconsin Realtors Association said, while the National Association of Realtors said the market is in a “V-shaped recovery.”

That’s impressive considering the negative impact the pandemic lockdown had on all kinds of economic activity this spring – including home sales.

In the Chippewa Valley, sales rose even more than they had statewide: Year over year, July sales were up 27% in Eau Claire County. And, while official numbers aren’t yet available, homes were selling as soon as they hit the market in August, too.

In a typical year, local Realtors said, home sales peak in the spring and taper off during the summer. Of course, 2020 has been anything but typical.

Because of the pandemic, “Our spring rush got pushed back 60 days,” said Gary Brenizer of Coldwell Banker Brenizer, board president of the Realtors Association of Northwestern Wisconsin. It’s a seller’s market, and that means some properties -- particularly those under $200,000 -- are selling for above the asking price, Brenizer said.

While year-to-date sales are still slightly behind 2019, they are catching up to the average, added Brenda Barnhardt, executive vice president of the local Realtors association. In general, she said, sales have been growing faster in rural parts of Wisconsin than in cities.

Does this signify an exodus out of larger cities to smaller towns? That’s hard to answer.

“I just had one who moved up here from the Chicagoland area who wanted to escape the higher taxes … and to live a more simplistic lifestyle,” Brenizer said. However, he said there doesn’t seem to be a big influx of people from outside the region; instead, buyers are more likely to be people who already live in the area and have decided to make the leap from renting to buying.

And while an increase in the number of people working from home may be driving new residents to places with lower costs of living such as the Chippewa Valley, “but I don’t think we’ve seen a lot of that yet,” Brenizer added.

Recent homebuyers can attest to the fast-moving local market.

Living in Portland, Oregon, UW-Eau Claire alum Megan Zabel Holmes was accustomed to an “extremely competitive” housing market: She had heard about sellers receiving 10 or more offers and of homes selling for $50,000 over asking price. When her family decided to move back to Wisconsin, Zabel Holmes said, “We thought that we could swoop into Eau Claire and have our pick of houses, but we quickly found that real estate inventory in Eau Claire was very low and that the really appealing houses were selling in a day or two.”

Between starting a serious house hunt at the end of May and getting an offer accepted on July 15, Zabel Holmes and her husband were outbid for two other homes. The house they ended up buying hadn’t even been on the market: Friends in Eau Claire learned on Facebook that it was going up for sale, and toured it on her behalf; Zabel Holmes had an accepted offer within 24 hours.

Meanwhile, the family was also selling their house in Portland and moving cross-country with two small children during a pandemic. “Our world was already scrambled, so we just shook it up some more,” Zabel Holmes said of moving to Eau Claire. “I still can't believe we pulled it off, and that the outcome is so good. We feel so lucky.”

Jasmine Case experienced a similar whirlwind this summer when she bought one house and sold another in Eau Claire. She and her husband fell in love with a house on a Friday and by Monday afternoon learned that their purchase offer was accepted. Next, they spent their wedding anniversary cleaning their house to get it ready to sell. “The first day our house was on the market, we had 13 showings and seven offers!” Case said. “We were thrilled our house sold so quickly. In seven days we found a house, had our offer accepted, listed our house and accepted an offer to sell it – it went FAST!”

Multiple offers and fast sales signify a seller’s market. Deborah Hanson, president-elect of the Realtors Association of Northwestern Wisconsin, says historically low interest rates are a major factor in attracting buyers. Likewise, the number of homes on the market is relatively low, said Hanson, a Realtor with Century 21 Affiliated in Altoona.

If you’re interested in buying a home right now, Hanson has some advice: Get preapproved for a mortgage before beginning your hunt. “The house that you want, someone else is already preapproved for,” she said.

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