It takes quite a bit of drama for anything to earn headlines over COVID, politics or the soothing magic of making sourdough bread, but real estate has managed to dominate the news for the past two years. Home values are skyrocketing, there’s a low inventory of housing and more people are working from home — and wanting to work in a home they love. Turns out, Happy Valley shares most of the trends, with one pretty major exception. And that’s the secret sauce that keeps Happy Valley happy.
We talked to Mindy Sabol of Kissinger Bigatel and Brower. She’s been a realtor in the area since 2000, and her best sales year was — you guessed it — last year.
“I thought being a Realtor in Centre County couldn’t get any better, but after the unprecedented year of the pandemic, 2021 turned out to be my best year ever in sales volume and transactions, ranking my team eighth in Centre County out of over 450-plus licensed realtors,” she said.
We asked her about the rising home values, the forecast on the sellers’ market and how Happy Valley rates as a homebuyer destination. Here’s what she reports.
“There are 94 total number of homes for sale in Centre County, within the five school districts of State College, Bellefonte, Bald Eagle, Philipsburg and Penns Valley,” Sabol said. “Last year on this date, there were 136 active homes on the market. That’s a 30% drop — much higher than the national average of a 16% drop in inventory.”
She said this trend is because there are fewer people wanting to sell their homes in these times of uncertainty. “There is also an influx of pent-up buyer demand for homes to purchase, mostly due to the incredibly low interest rates, lack of homes for sale and higher/increasing rental rates. So, what we have now is a simple supply and demand problem. More buyers and fewer homes to buy.”
“Just like everything else, home prices are increasing,” Sabol said. “In January 2021, the average home price in Centre County was $365,708. Today, one year later, the average home price is $390,595. This is a 7% increase in home prices in our area.” (Surprisingly, this is almost half of the national average for 2021, which was about a 13% increase in home prices.)
This January, the average 30-year fixed conventional mortgage rate was 3.7%, which is approximately a 1% increase over last year at this time when the average was 2.85%. Sabol said having the rate this low is deceptive for first-time buyers.
“If I am working with first-time homebuyers or buyers who are trying to buy at the very top of their financial capability (which always concerns me), I’m also talking to them about the ever-rising costs of heating/cooling, insurance and maintenance, now more than ever,” she said.
A recent news story reported residents are leaving Pennsylvania at a higher rate than almost any other state, ranking #48 just under people pulling their U-Haul out of California or Illinois (yikes!). And while State College does see an active pattern of people buying and selling because of the transitive nature of secondary education, there is a large draw to move to Happy Valley because of what it offers. It’s consistently ranked as one of the top 100 best places to live in America, according to livability.com.
Sabol said there is a constant flow of people into the area, and into the housing market. She identifies five distinct reasons people look for new houses in Happy Valley, and they all come down to its much-lauded livability and job opportunities.
“We are so lucky to live in a town that has a university like Penn State consistently bringing new people to and from our housing market,” Sabol said. “Penn State is the No. 1 employer, with No. 2 being the Pennsylvania State Government, No. 3 Mount Nittany Medical Center, No. 4 the State College Area School District and No. 5 Glen O Hawbaker Inc. All of the enticing job opportunities in the area makes our community and real estate market stable in so many ways.”
(In addition to these top hiring companies, there are many job opportunities in fast-growing technology companies like KCF, ARL, Blue Mountain, EnergyCap, Minitab and Restek, just to name a few. You can see job listings here!)
“During the last two years, a lot of different businesses here have found that their employees can work from home, or commute to the office occasionally. This has enabled a lot more people to pick where they want to live instead of having to live close to their workplaces, so people can choose to live here and be employed with a company located somewhere else!”
“We always have the amazing Penn State alumni who buy their vacation or football homes here,” Sabol reported. “This segment of our market has always been strong and continues to be busy.
“The investment property segment of our market is still busy and competitive as ever,” she said. “Some buyers want it for their children while attending PSU or if they just want to increase their rental home portfolio — either way, investment properties here are selling for a premium and fast!”
As for Sabol, she said she bought real estate in Happy Valley because it’s home. “I have had the honor of calling State College my home since I was six years old. I grew up here. I went through the State College Area School District and then on to get my degree from PSU. I have built an amazing business here. Most of our family and friends are here. Today, I am raising my family here. My kids now attend State College Area High School where I went! This town is Happy Valley and I love it!”
*All data referenced is as of the interview date of Jan. 24, 2022
Cara Aungst writes about industry, innovation and how Happy Valley ideas change the world. She can be reached with story ideas and comments at Cara@AffinityConnection.com.