Housing prices, new builds rose in 2019
According to the most recent data from the Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors, the average sales price for a house in Carbon County was $151,452 in February, down slightly from January’s high of $165,006. The January figure was up 24.7% over that same time last year, and 2019 was a good year.
“Carbon County experienced a stellar year - one of its best ever - partly due to homebuyers looking for inventory not available in other contiguous areas,” the GLVR report stated.
The problem is inventory.
Inventory dropped 31.9% in February to just 222 houses. New listings fell 10.1% to 71 houses.
“Tight inventory continues to constrain buyer activity,” the GLVR reported. “New construction activity continues to improve, but is still below levels required to fully supply the market’s needs.”
Cass Chies, a Realtor and broker with ReMax Diamond First in Palmerton, said she gets several calls from people looking for building lots, but finding the right piece of land can be difficult.
“People want a view of Blue Mountain,” she said. Steep slopes and property taxes get in the way though.
Deb Kleckner, the director of the Carbon Builders Association, said, “Property taxes have been cost prohibitive. People look at the cost to build and the taxes and they decide not to build the second home or a retirement home.”
Kleckner said 463 building permits were taken out in 2008, and then the recession hit. In the years that followed, that number dropped to just 11 at its lowest point.
“There were some quarters where counties did not have to file quarterly reports on the number of new housing starts, because there were no new starts,” she said.
Since then, 2019 was one of the area’s best years.
“This is a beautiful county to live and work in. We have a lot of building going on here of new construction,” she said. “Builders are busy. We are on an upswing.”
Unlike Lehigh, Northampton and Monroe counties, that upswing is for individual houses, not housing developments.
“The mid-90s was the last big construction housing build,” Chies said. There hasn’t been one in Carbon County since.
Richard George, owner of S&S Custom Homes in Saylorsburg, said the cost to develop land is “astronomical.” First of all, large tracts of land are expensive, then the developer has to add on the cost of engineering and site work, and comply with local ordinances and state environmental laws.
Tyler Haydt, owner of Future Homes in Kunkletown, agrees.
“It costs more (to develop) than you can get for a lot right now,” he said.
In its place, new construction of individual houses has taken off.
“Oh my, yes, we’re getting people in here, three or four a week,” George said. “Last year, it was one a week.”
Haydt has been so busy, he barely had time for an interview.
For George, most of his purchasers are in Northampton and Monroe counties because they are closer to the Route 33 corridor, but he gets a few in Carbon, too.
Most of Haydt’s customers are in Carbon County - particularly Palmerton.
“Palmerton has been pretty hot for a while,” he said. There was a subdivision there that is now full.
Haydt said his company built 28 houses last year, and is slated for about 34 houses this year.
George said his company built 35 houses last year, and the most requested style was ranch - 24 to be exact.
“The older folks want to get rid of their two-story homes, and the young kids, well, I can’t answer the reason why they want ranchers,” he said.
George said he thinks the ranch style is a better use of space, because it has only what you use every day.
“With a rancher, you build exactly what you use,” he said.
George said the houses range in price from about $275,000 to $400,000. The cost for the land is extra.
Haydt said his houses start around $200,000 and go up. It all depends on what the customer wants to build. He has several designs for them to choose from, but many bring in a picture of their dream home or design one on their own.
Despite the recent downturns in the stock market and the pandemic crisis, GLVR remains hopeful for the real estate market. Pending sales were up 267% in February in Carbon.
“As we progressed through February, the actual and expected impacts of COVID-19 continued to grow, with concerns of economic impact reaching the stock market in the last week of the month,” said GLVR President Jack Gross.
“As the stock market declined, so did mortgage rates, offering a bad news-good news situation. While short term declines in the stock market can sting, borrowers who lock in today’s low rates will benefit significantly in the long term.”