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Midstate housing: Owning vs. renting

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Interest rates remain in the basement. Qualified buyer demand is surging.

Resale inventories are falling. Builders are playing catch-up.

Sale prices are stabilizing, even growing.

But material costs are rising.

Why not rent and avoid the bottleneck?

The share of households that rent rather than own has been growing nationwide.

So are rental costs — in fact, they are growing faster than median monthly costs for homebuyers in many areas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

But growing populations and leaner property inventories could put upward pressure on rentals.

"As the market picks up, I can see people putting homes back on the market. As that inventory hits the market and sells, renters are going to be looking and I'm not sure the inventory is going to be there," said Mike Adler, owner of Carlisle-based Sterling Property Management Inc. and Realtor with West Hanover Township-based Re/Max Delta Group Inc.

Adler's company manages about 400 individual rental properties as well as homeowner and condominium associations.

As home values dropped at the end of the last decade, rental vacancies were expected to decline quickly. They

didn't, because of short sales and owners who decided to pull back listings and rent properties that had lost value, he said.

Rates are down now. Adler is running about 4 percent to 5 percent vacancy and said he expects that will drop even lower.

There is a need for more rentals, especially higher-end properties for more transient groups such as military families, he said.

Local rental prices, while growing, aren't skyrocketing, he said.

"I think it's going up. It's stabilized," Adler said. "I do see that coming in the near future. We could see 10 to 15 percent (over) the next five years."

Available housing is not as lean in Central Pennsylvania as it is in other parts of the country, Adler said.

"Right now, I think there is still enough single-family," he said. "Things move very slowly here in Central Pa. I think we'll grow at a conservative pace."

Builders are seeing more traffic, but it's still going to be "tight another year or so," said Brad Haubert, vice president of Hampden Township-based Haubert Homes Inc.

"For first-time buyers, it's a little tougher to get financing," he said.

Local mortgage facts

Cumberland County: In 2005, monthly mortgage costs were less than 25 percent of household income for 65.3 percent of county owners. In 2011, that number dropped to 61.5 percent of owners.

Dauphin County: In 2005, monthly mortgage costs were less than 25 percent of household income for 57.8 percent of county owners. In 2011, that number was nearly level at 57.6 percent of owners.

Lancaster County: In 2005, monthly mortgage costs were less than 25 percent of household income for 57.7 percent of county owners. In 2011, that number decreased to 49.8 percent of owners.

Lebanon County: In 2005, monthly mortgage costs were less than 25 percent of household income for 60 percent of county owners. In 2011, that number declined to 55.7 percent of owners.

York County: In 2005, monthly mortgage costs were less than 25 percent of household income for 58.1 percent of county owners. In 2011, that number fell to 50.4 percent of owners.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

New-home sales and resale transactions

Sales of newly built single-family homes were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 417,000 in March, which was up from 411,000 in February and 18.5 percent above the March 2012 estimate, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

There were 40,000 new homes sold in March, according to nonseasonally adjusted statistics. Last year, there were 368,000 new homes sold, but no month cracked 40,000 sales.

In the Northeast, there were 14,000 new homes for sale at the end of March, nonseasonally adjusted data shows. That was down from 18,000 in March 2012.

Resales dipped in March from inventory constraints to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.92 million, according to the National Association of Realtors. But that is up 10.3 percent from the 4.46-million-unit pace in March 2012.

Sales have been above year-ago levels for 21 consecutive months, according to the NAR.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast were 630,000 in March, which was 6.8 percent above March 2012.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin County. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jasons@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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