Real estate activity in the north country is ordinarily stagnant during the winter, not picking up speed until April or May, when the sun starts breaking through the skies.
But not this year.
Real estate brokers selling property say the usual trend has flipped, reporting that a steady stream of people has sought to purchase property in January and February this year rather than waiting for the arrival of spring. In addition to the unusually mild winter weather, they say, the increase in activity has been driven by historically low loan rates, the influx of soldiers returning to Fort Drum from overseas and first-time home buyers taking advantage of the robust market.
C. Korleen Spilman, associate broker for Century 21 Millennium Realty in Gouverneur, said that while requests to show properties usually start in April, she started seeing an uptick in January that has climbed steadily, calling it 80 percent better than a year ago.
The last week in February and the first week in March its really popped, she said. Last February you might not have had a showing, but Ive showed 12 houses since the last week of February.
Mrs. Spilman added that Gouverneur, about 30 miles from Fort Drum, is an attractive community for military families seeking to purchase housing. And with the influx of troops returning to Fort Drum this spring, she said, she expects to see more soldiers seeking homes in the area. In light of the shortage of available rental property in the region, she expects more families to consider purchasing houses.
I think this trend will have an impact on sales in my area, and a lot of it will depend on rental situations, she said. I think a lot of people will buy homes when they would normally rent.
Another impetus spurring the trend has been historically low interest rates for mortgage loans, which are now dropping below 4 percent, said Karen A. Peebles, real estate broker and owner of Peebles Realty in Adams. She said that a couple now is seeking to purchase a house with a conventional loan at a rate of 3.87 percent a rate unheard of last year, when rates typically were 5 percent to 6 percent.
Interest rates are at an all-time low, and thats huge for people, she said.
Ordinarily, activity starts slowing down with the arrival of winter around Thanksgiving, Mrs. Peebles said, with about one or two sales pending each month from December through January. But this year, Ive had five or six sales pending constantly since Christmas, with activity picking up in January and February, she said.
Low interest rates coupled with more military families, with whom the agency does 25 percent of its business, expected to seek housing are expected to increase property sales by at least 10 percent over the spring and summer, Mrs. Peebles said. The company, which has eight brokers selling property, sold 48 properties during the season last year.
I think this trend is going to continue and that now is a great time to buy, she said, adding that the Fort Drum region is bucking the national housing trend. Were really in a good place here.
Lake Ontario Realty in Chaumont, which has 14 agents selling properties in Jefferson County, has seen a wave of activity that has at least doubled compared with last year during January and February. Real estate broker Brenda H. Sipher said that while agents for the agency showed maybe one or two houses per week to prospective buyers last winter, that average has climbed to about five or six this winter.
I am seeing significantly more activity, Mrs. Sipher said. Last week I showed 26 houses, a record number for this time of year.
While she hasnt seen an increase in military families seeking housing yet, Mrs. Sipher said, the number of first-time buyers looking for houses in the price range of $100,000 to $150,000 has climbed. About half of those seeking homes this winter have been first-time home buyers, with fewer people eyeing higher-priced houses.
Additionally, there has been a surge in the number of people seeking multifamily homes to rent apartments, a trend that was almost nonexistent last year.
A significant number of multifamily homes have been sold this winter in the Watertown area, she said. With the lack of rental property available, a lot of people are thinking that now is the time to buy.