SHAVERTOWN — Susan Siley worked during the past six years to nurture her Shavertown property and make it a home.
“This is our first house. We did a lot of work to it, and we love it, but it's just not big enough,” she said.
Siley, who shares the house with her husband, Jason, daughter Madison, and father, John Grady, said she always wanted a larger home — especially one with two bathrooms. She's in the process of buying a four-bedroom home “right up the road” from her current residence.
“This house became available with a two-car garage and a fenced-in yard and above-ground pool, and we had to jump on it. We're very happy,” she said, with excitement in her voice about finding a property with “three times the house” and only about half the interest rate on her mortgage loan.
Siley was surprised they also found a buyer for her current place after only a month, especially after hearing stories from some friends who have been waiting to sell for two years.
These days, her success in expanding to a new home isn't unusual. Area real estate agents say the housing market is picking up again, and with interest rates of about 3.5 percent for some mortgage loans, this is considered a great time to buy.
The pickup is attributed to a strengthening economy with unemployment rates falling to 7.5 percent and a stock market surging past 15,000 points on the Dow Jones Industrial Average earlier this week, as well as historically low interest rates.
“Anyone that's going to go looking to buy a house, whether they're a first-time home buyer or somebody moving up, I don't think we're going to see interest rates like this anywhere in the near future,” said Jerry McGuire Sr., owner of Jerry McGuire Realtor at 518 N. Church St., Hazleton.
“I think there's been a definite pick-up in the market. I do not see an increase in prices in the area, though,” he added. “I think people are starting to trust the economy a little bit more. They realize that interest rates are starting to rise, so if they're interested in buying a house, now's the best time.”
Michael Slacktish, owner of Century 21 Signature Properties at Memorial Highway and Ferguson Avenue in Shavertown, agrees. “I think people are finally feeling comfortable, from an economic standpoint, and they're looking at low interest rates and saying, 'Now's the time.' “
Those rates — and some coaxing from family — helped direct Edward Furman, 30, of Dallas to get serious about a search for his first home with his girlfriend, Catherine Iannucci.
“My parents and Catherine's parents have been saying for the past three years that we need to do it now because it's not going to get any better than this,” he recalled. “It was a little nerve-racking, the whole process, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be.”
After a brief but focused hunt, Furman said, he and Iannucci found their first home in Shavertown relatively quickly.
Things are getting better, but some real estate agents still recall far easier times.
“It's not the glory years of 2003, 2004 like we want it to be. … You could put a house on the market today and sell it tomorrow (then),” said Bob Rundle, co-owner of Coldwell Banker Rundle Real Estate, 40 N. Mountain Blvd., Mountain Top.
“What is happening now on some of the properties that are priced right, you're getting duplicate offers,” Rundle said, adding that most homes are selling at about 95 percent of the list price but marketing them takes a bit longer.
Slacktish said “all kinds of home buyers” — from first-time buyers like Furman to those expanding like Siley — realize that now is the time to invest.
“The risk of owning a property right now is very minimal,” Slacktish said. “When you have home prices probably at the lowest that they'll ever be, the appreciation can only happen right now.”
Other buyers have taken notice. New home inventory has reached an all-time low, Slacktish said. From January 1 to May 6, 2012, 2,604 residential properties were available in the multiple listing service for Wilkes-Barre, Mountain Top, Pittston, the Back Mountain area and surrounding municipalities. In the same time frame this year, only 2,461 are on the market.
McGuire said some sales are happening in the Hazleton area, but many buyers appear to be attracted to homes “on the outskirts,” in municipalities such as Weatherly and Beaver Meadows in Carbon County or McAdoo in Schuylkill County. McGuire Realtor is a member of MLS services in Schuylkill and Hazleton.
The number of homes under contract is up 13 percent relative to last year, Slacktish added.
While the market is getting better, it's not an excuse to go overboard.
“Just because you can afford a $300,000 house doesn't mean you need to buy it,” Slacktish advised.
Changes in the real estate market haven't fazed long-time agents like McGuire, who's been in the business since 1968.
“I've seen so many markets, it's unbelievable,” McGuire said. He calls the current market “the craziest” he's ever seen and said many real estate agents left the industry before things started improving.
“I'm just glad to see the market picking up. We have more people contacting us for homes and listings to purchase,” he said. “It's a good sign for the future if it continues.”