‘Amazing’ home market for sellers leaves buyers with few options

By: Diana Matthews, The News Reporter

Recently real estate agent Darian Ransom saw four of his listed houses go under contract within 48 hours from the time they went on the market; two of them were snapped up within 24 hours, he said.

The residential real estate market is “the busiest I’ve seen it in 12 years,” said Ransom, owner of First Choice Pro Realty. “It’s amazing. Even through COVID-19, it hasn’t slowed down.”

Jackie Ray-Pierce of J. Ray Realty agreed that, if a house is in move-in condition and priced right, “It won’t stay on the market long.” She and the agents in her office could sell more houses if the supply of available houses were wider.

“2020 was a great year,” Ray-Pierce said. “Unfortunately we’re going into 2021 with very low inventory.”

Prospective buyers are having a hard time finding the place they want, Ray-Pierce said. That could mean a starter home for a single person or young couple, a roomier place for a growing family, a place to retire or even just a rental to stay in while starting a new job and looking for a house.

Trey and Carlee Farmer are pictured with their children, Natalie and Jacob, Wednesday morning in front of their new home. Local real estate brokers Darian Ransom, top, and Jackie Ray-Pierce, below, say that the demand for local housing is exceeding …

Trey and Carlee Farmer are pictured with their children, Natalie and Jacob, Wednesday morning in front of their new home. Local real estate brokers Darian Ransom, top, and Jackie Ray-Pierce, below, say that the demand for local housing is exceeding supply in many categories.

Supply and demand

Ransom called the current conditions a seller’s market, at least for homes priced less than $200,000. He sees several factors driving up demand in Columbus County. Retirees from the North are looking for a home “where it’s not cold and with lower crime” than the places they’re leaving, he said. Some want to be fairly close to the beaches or to the amenities of Wilmington, Ransom said, but without the traffic congestion and the higher costs of coastal living. “Columbus County looks very attractive” to those buyers, he said.

Ray-Pierce is working with prospective buyers from Ohio, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania looking for better weather and tax rates. But, while demand is brisk, supply is disappointing, she said. “They look here, but there’s nothing new to purchase.”

Columbus County needs more “spec houses, subdivisions, nice rental homes and apartments for people who don’t qualify for subsidized housing,” said Ray-Pierce. Professionals such as teachers find attractive options scarce in their price range. “Nobody’s building that kind of thing.” Getting some new apartments or duplexes built “would definitely be to our advantage,” Ray-Pierce said.

‘Competitive’ market

Another factor increasing demand is historically low interest rates within the past year, which have allowed buyers to purchase more square feet and more acreage than they otherwise would have.

Ransom said that, “Three bedroom, two bath and up” is the most popular request he gets. He has a waiting list of people hoping to buy a fairly modern home that size with a few acres “in a country setting.”

Trey Farmer pushes his daughter, Natalie, in a swing at their new home.

Trey Farmer pushes his daughter, Natalie, in a swing at their new home.

Outside buyers are vying with local people who want to move up from a starter home into a larger place.

Columbus County natives Carlee Farmer, 25, and her husband, Benjamin “Trey” Farmer, 28, looked at a few houses over a two-year period before finding one they wanted to buy in August. She is a nurse and he is a corrections officer. With their second child on the way, they wanted to move from the two-bedroom, one-bath house on East Wyche Street in Whiteville where they had lived for seven years.

She called the market for larger houses “competitive.” Several of the houses she and her husband looked at got sold before they could decide whether or not to make an offer. “We weren’t in a rush,” she said, and other bidders apparently were.

But when they visited a four-bedroom, three-bath house on Slippery Log Road, “We knew this was the house for us,” she said, so they made an offer right away. The ranch house’s open floor plan, a spacious master bedroom, a backyard pool and a location convenient to Wal-mart won them over.

Ransom was the listing agent for the Slippery Log Road home, and the Farmers decided three months later to have him sell their former home rather than rent it out.

The Wyche Street house “was a great starter home, and it was in a good location,” Carlee Farmer said. “It sold in about a day after three showings.” She called the selling experience “smooth sailing.”

Fewer listings, higher sales price

Ray-Pierce said most sales in the county last year were in the $150,000–200,000 range.

She provided a table from the county Multiple Listing Service website showing that there were 74 active residential listings (24 of them new) in the county last month, compared to 111 (23 of them new) in January 2020.

Average residential listing price for January 2021 was $166,270, down from $188,874 a year before, but the average sale price of $190,321 in January 2021 was up from $151,205 a year earlier.

Graphs on the site showed the number of available listings last year peaking in April and dropping until a smaller peak occurred in late summer.

Ray-Pierce called the pattern typical for the “very cyclical” real estate industry. “Normally things pick up in March and April,” she said. Overall, listing prices last year “fluctuated just a hair but were pretty normal.” Her agency sold 112 properties in 2020, after selling 110 in 2019.

New normal

One factor keeping a lid on supply, and thus propping up prices, is Gov. Roy Cooper’s moratorium on foreclosures due to the coronavirus pandemic, Ray-Pierce said. Whenever that moratorium is lifted, Ray predicts that, “A lot of houses will hit the market,” and that “will probably push prices down.”

One factor that hasn’t hurt local sales much is the virus itself, both agents said.

Masks, gloves, disinfectant and hand sanitizer are everyday precautions when meeting the public and showing houses.

Occasionally sellers limit access to their houses if an elderly person lives there or if someone in the household has had the virus. Agents appreciate knowing if there’s a reason not to take prospective buyers into a home.

Real estate has been classified as an essential business under the governor’s pandemic restrictions. “We’ve never shut down,” Ray-Pierce said. When it comes to protecting her staff and their clients, “We’ve been diligent, and we’ve done our part, I think.”