Baker County real estate heats up

The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to a sizzling real estate market in Baker County.

Buyers, taking advantage of low interest rates and in some cases seeking to move from an urban area to rural Eastern Oregon, are outnumbering sellers.

Several local agents said 2020 has been hectic, with many homes drawing multiple offers, and sales prices rising as a result of the competition.

“We are low on inventory across the board for properties that are available,” said Amy Briels, owner and principal broker at Compass Real Estate in Baker City.

The trend dates back several months.

“I was busy all summer, people have been looking all summer even into the fall and (are) still looking,” said Marty Lien, a Realtor for John J. Howard Real Estate.

Lien said many buyers are moving to Baker County, and they’re motivated by a desire to live in a rural area.

The COVID-19 pandemic, with the numbers of infections rising recently in many parts of the nation, is contributing to that, Lien said.

“They want to get out of Boise, Portland and some of the larger areas because they are tired of the larger populations; they have family and friends here,” Lien said. “A lot of that has to do with COVID-19. People want to get out of those larger areas.”

High demand and low inventory means rising prices.

Briels said she’s seen the largest jump, from a percentage standpoint, at the lower end of the market, where a home that might have sold for $130,000 a couple of years ago today brings $150,000.

A property that sold for $150,000 before the current trend might go for $175,000 or $180,000 now, Briels said.

The jump in values has been driven in part by an influx of buyers from metropolitan areas who have considerable equity due to the much higher average prices in those urban markets, Briels said.

Although those buyers can potentially outbid local residents, a factor that partially offsets that, and benefits local buyers, is the “incredibly low interest rates” that allow people to buy a more expensive home without incurring a significantly higher monthly payment, Briels said.

Typical annual percentage rates for a fixed, 30-year mortgage are running around 3.2%, according to Bankrate.com

Andrew Bryan, owner of Baker City Realty, said the affordable interest rates are enabling local residents to either buy their first home, or to upgrade to a more expensive property.

Bryan said the swelling prices have all but eliminated what was, just a couple years ago, a fairly robust segment — smaller homes worth less than $100,000.

“Our under-100,000 market has almost disappeared,” Bryan said.

At a higher level, he said, homes that might have been listed for $115,000 two years ago might sell now for as much as $160,000.

Overall, Bryan said, sales prices have risen by 5% to 15%.

He provided a Market Trend Report to the Herald that showed the average sale price for properties rose from $150,175 in January 2020, when 12 units sold, to an average of $286,165 in October, when 33 units sold.

Properties selling quicklyWith so many more potential buyers looking at real estate in Baker County, homes are selling more rapidly than usual, agents said.

In the past few years it wasn’t uncommon for a house to be on the market for several months, Briels said.

But during this summer and fall, she said, many homes are selling within two weeks of being listed.

“A lot have sold even faster than that, with multiple offers in the first day,” she said. “It doesn’t even matter what the price point is.”

Bryan’s Market Trend Report shows that the average days on the market for homes sold in February 2020 was 87 days.

Since then that time has fluctuated from as few as six days, in October, to 23 days in July. The average from March through October was 11 days.

Commercial, farm properties also drawing interestThe recent boom isn’t limited to homes, Bryan said.

“We’re seeing much stronger interest” in commercial properties, he said, some of which in the past wouldn’t have drawn any interest, much less an offer, for many months.

Farming and ranching properties have also been selling at a faster rate than in the previous several years, Bryan said.

One thing that stands out to Bryan, who has been selling real estate in Baker County since 2008, is that many people looking for homes are not picky about where in Northeastern Oregon the property is.

In effect, he said, people are willing to buy, and to live, anywhere in the region.

“I’ve never seen that before,” Bryan said. “In my experience, this is the first time that buyers are looking at the region, and not necessarily just our town, that’s kind of been a major change.”’

He attributes this trend to the pandemic, with people eager to move to a rural area and not particular about precisely where they end up.

Bryan said the proliferation of people working from home during the pandemic gives buyers a geographic flexibility.

And Northeastern Oregon, given its relative proximity to Boise, with its metro amenities and airport, is attractive for that group of buyers, he said.

For Grove, who has been in real estate in the county for more than 25 years, the current market atmosphere can be captured in just one phrase.

“The basics of the market are that we have strong demand, low inventory and excellent interest rates,” Grove said. “I just think it’s the perfect storm.”

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