October 23, 2013
Long considered to be immune to booms and busts, Western New York is experiencing a seller's market like none that's been seen in decades Alexis Agnello has lived through a whirlwind. The 32-year-old commercial banker and her husband, a 33-year-old landscaper, bought a house in North Buffalo, sold their old house -- and had a baby -- all in three weeks.
The couple lived in half of a two-family home but were tired of being landlords. Two days after an open house, they had three offers. The house they bought -- after just five days on the market -- had six offers. They won the bidding war by offering nearly $28,000 more than the listing price.
Welcome to real estate these days in Buffalo, long considered a sleepy market immune to the booms and busts that roil the rest of the country. Thanks to a big drop in the number of homes for sale, coupled with a rush to get low interest rates before they are gone, Buffalo and Western New York are living a seller's market not seen in years.
The result is a buying frenzy -- and price increases that are distinctly un-Buffalo. Realtors talk about listings that drew half a dozen offers. The median sales price has risen each of the past 12 months and is up 6 percent just since January. Hunt Real Estate Corp. agent Robert Blake had a client offer $340,000 on a $315,000 home in the city -- and still not get the house. Matthew Hamed and his fiancee, both pharmacists, found only about six homes in their price range in the city and not that many more in their preferred suburbs. Some bidders are paying all cash upfront, then refinancing with a mortgage after the deal closes. Others are forgoing inspections and other contingencies -- or turning a blind eye to problems -- just to get ahead.
"I personally have had some buyers who have really been through the wringer," said Robyn Cannata, a real estate broker at Hunt in Williamsville. "I am representing some buyers who have put in four offers, on four separate houses, and had to deal with multiple offers each time."
Said Susan Lenahan, head of the city office for M.J. Peterson Corp.: "It's crazy. I've been in business for over 30 years. I've never seen a market like this."
Rabbi Adam Scheldt, the new assistant rabbi at Temple Beth Zion in downtown Buffalo, experienced the listing shortage this spring when he came from Brooklyn for a weekend of house-hunting before starting his job. The 34-year-old Illinois native, who focused his search on North Buffalo, Kenmore and Tonawanda, lost the first house before getting his second.
Otherwise, he said only one other home fit his price, location and needs. "There wasn't a lot available," he said. "I've been very blessed in the whole process and search, but there was not a lot in my price range that was really worth buying."
Kristin St. Mary and fiance David Barber liked a three-story, white-and-gray home for sale on Bird Avenue, west of Richmond Avenue. The kitchen had been upgraded. The bathrooms were updated. The owners had added a mudroom. The house was well-maintained.
The $169,900 asking price was less than others the newly engaged couple had looked at. "We've seen other houses that needed more work," said St. Mary, 36, a local attorney and Syracuse native. "This house was great. It's move-in ready."
But although the house was listed only a day earlier, there was already one offer and another showing later in the evening. And the couple had lost out on another house after bidding $25,000 above asking price, only to be beat by a similar offer in cash. They eventually decided not to bid.
"People are snatching things up quickly," St. Mary said. "There's a lot of pressure."