The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

April 28, 2013

Experts: Real estate market improving

Randy Griffith

JOHNSTOWN — The region’s real estate market is on the rebound following a downturn that was not as precipitous as many areas of the country.

Home sales were up in Somerset County and holding steady in Cambria during 2012 and continue to sell during the first part of 2013, local real estate brokers say.

“I think we are in recovery,” said R. Scott Boyer of RE/MAX Premier Realtors, 267 Stoystown Road, Somerset.

“There was a decline,” Boyer continued. “But we are not trendsetters in Somerset and Cambria counties. When everybody else tanked in 2008, we didn’t feel it until 2009.”

A significant number of foreclosures helped fuel the local drop in values that began in 2009, Boyer added.

Cambria County also saw values drop, said office manager Keith Griffith at Howard Hanna Heritage, 437 Theatre Drive in Richland Township.

“We did crash, in terms of prices coming down dramatically,” Griffith said. “But there is activity in Johnstown now. Property is selling.”

In fact, Griffith said, this is a very good time to buy real estate. Although prices have begun to recover, home mortgage interest rates remain at all-time lows.

“I have been in the business for 38 years,” he said. “This is the best time I have ever seen to buy property. People should be just crazy out there buying.”

“It’s a great buyers’ market,” Boyer said. “And that helps the sellers, too.”

Somerset’s increase in home sales has covered the full spectrum of primary homes priced under $500,000, Boyer said. About 10 to 12 percent of the sales are less than $30,000.

“A lot of that stuff is fixer-uppers and people trying to make an investment,” he said.

One area that has not seen much activity is the upper-end second homes at Somerset County’s resort communities, Boyer added.

“The resort industry has not come back,” he said. “There are a lot of homes still on the market.”

Bernie Connelly of Prestige Realty, 2305 Bedford St. in Geistown, said uncertainty about the local economy is holding back some buyers.

The popular neighborhoods remain the same, the brokers said.

“Richland has always been a strong market,” Connelly said. “With its shopping and transportation, people see it as a desirable area. Westmont has been pretty stable.”

There is a perception that people aren’t looking at Westmont because of property tax rates, Griffith said, but the facts don’t confirm the perception.

During 2012 and the first part of 2013, more single-family homes were sold in Westmont Hilltop School District than in Richland School District, Griffith said.

For homes over $250,000, Richland is still in the lead, he added.

Price is more of a driver than location, Connelly said.

“I think it just depends on what you can afford,” he said.

Those moving to Somerset County from other areas tend to gravitate toward the larger school districts, Boyer said.

“The larger districts are perceived as better,” he said, adding that natives have a different perception.

“If you grew up there and went to school there, that’s where you want your children to go to school.”

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