Hometown Realtors owner says 2024 could see a stable housing market




For the Athol Daily News

Published: 12-28-2023 3:15 PM

ATHOL – As the new year approaches, Sara Lyman, owner of Athol’s Hometown Realtors, said those in need of housing or are first-time homebuyers should direct their search where competition is light.

“Here in New England,” she continued, “that rings true every winter season. When you turn on the national news, they talk about things in such a way that everything is gloom and doom, and it gets consumers not to think in that mindset. People tend to shop when everybody else is shopping.”

Lyman pointed to 2020 and 2021, when, she said, “the market was flooded. The rates did help; they were at an historic low, which will never happen again. But everybody was in that market at one time and that’s when demand spiked.”

When the market is flooded, she said, it impacts the consumer’s ability to negotiate.

“Right now, we have this beautiful time, which we really haven’t had,” said Lyman.

The exception, she explained, was October-November of 2022, when interest rates hit an all-time high.

“But then, there was still a lot of cash in the marketplace,” Lyman said. “Right now, throughout central and western Massachusetts, we have seen a lot of that cash kind of dry up. So, we’re back into a market that is very normal for our geographic area.”

Lyman said this region has a lot of VA, USDA, and FHA buyers who are currently looking for homes.

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“We want them to be able to get a home inspection,” she said. “We want them to be able to negotiate around the defects that might be in the house. We want them to be able to get a home and not have to overpay 30-, 40-, 50-thousand dollars, like we’ve seen over the course of the last four years. And it’s critical to be shopping at a time when you don’t have the most amount of consumers looking in the marketplace. That’s why right now, I think, is a really beautiful time for buyers – but we are going to see that shift again, just like we have the last four years.”

More buyers, Lyman predicted, will be getting into the marketplace as spring and summer approach. That, she says, is because it’s likely interests will drop a bit more. She also said politics will have an impact.

“We’re headed into an election year, and an election year is always a time when consumer confidence is a little bit more volatile than in other years,” she explained.

Lyman said that, despite an overall positive economy, “There are a lot people who out there who just think the rates are going to come down to 4 or 5% again. I think we really need to focus on that mindset and understand that a 6 or 7, or even 8% interest rate is somewhat normal when you look at interest rates over time.”

Lyman added that it is a tough time for renters in North Quabbin.

“We do not have a good stock of rentals available,” she said. “Rental prices are going up significantly. That’s why we’re seeing so much of the conversion of these big older factory buildings and schools being converted into housing, because the demand for rentals and housing is so, so high. And we just don’t have anywhere to build those types of complexes like you would see in other parts of the country.”

Lyman said an average of 15 to 20 new single-family homes are being constructed in this region each year.

Looking ahead to the new year, Lyman said, “I think it’s going to be a really interesting year. I think we’re going to see stabilization in the marketplace. We’re probably going to see prices stay where they are, or maybe drop one and half to 2%. We’re not going to see any big gains, like we have in the past.

“Obviously, that will have a big impact on inventory,” she continued. “If the inventory stays at the critical level it’s at right now, we will still see people over-bidding for homes. But we won’t see the kind of dramatic wave we’ve seen over the last three years. I think it’s going to be a good year, especially for that critical millennial age, where they don’t want to be paying $2,000, $2,500 a month for rent. They’ll have to find a way to save up enough to get into a home – because the rental market isn’t going to go down.”

Lyman said that in Athol in 2023, 155 single-family homes were sold. In 2022, there were 151 sold. The average sale price for a single-family home in Athol this year was $305,000, compared to $185,000-$200,000 in 2020-2021. As for rents, Lyman said the average rate for a two-bedroom apartment in the Athol area is $1,500/month.

“On average, this last year homes in the Athol area sold at 101% over asking price,” she added. “That right there is what I think is most important for people to understand. For the first time in four years, for the last two months – and I think probably for another two months moving forward – we’ve seen buyers be able to negotiate under asking price; they’ve been able to negotiate concessions.”

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.