QUALITY OF LIFE REPORT 2015: Cost of living

Housing decisions start with jobs, followed by schools and location

Job opportunities will always be the major force that drives regional homebuying decisions.

Illustration / Mark Lockley

“If (opportunities) are dwindling here, or there is not the growth going on economically, (residents) are going to look elsewhere,” Kay Hock,

broker liaison with South Middleton Township-based Hooke, Hooke & Eckman Realtors LLC, said.

Fortunately, industry has become increasingly diverse in Central Pennsylvania with plenty of public- and private-sector opportunities that stem from its role as the capital region.

Low unemployment in an improving economy has fostered a growing regional housing market that has been returning to prerecession levels over the last

few years.

Indeed, the Harrisburg area turned in one of its best quarters of the last decade in the third quarter, with most of Central Pennsylvania poised for double-digit housing growth this year.

Beyond career moves, what else is getting people to buy or stay in the midstate?

The top factors are often strong school districts, proximity to other major metropolitan areas and a lower cost of living.

The latter two – proximity and cost of living – often go hand in hand. People live in southern York County and commute to the Baltimore area, or buy a home in Lancaster and take the train to Philadelphia.

Throw in redevelopment efforts in our county seats, which are yielding mixed-use projects such as trendy restaurants and retail offerings usually found in major metropolitan areas, and the midstate looks even more compelling, local real estate professionals said.

“We have a lot of Baltimore transplants,” said Tony Thomas, a Realtor at Keller Williams Keystone Realty and vice president of the Realtors Association of York and Adams Counties.

Thomas himself falls in that category. He was born and raised in Baltimore, but a growing family meant a bigger home and, ultimately, a move to York County eight years ago.

“When we moved out, the home we purchased was $300,000. In Baltimore, the same build was $550,000,” he said. “In Maryland, we couldn’t find anything in our budget that fit what we needed.”

Just over the Maryland border in York County, he found what he was looking for, he said. The bonus was a good school system in York Suburban School District.

Low crime rates, at least when compared with major East Coast cities, might be another factor to consider, he said. “A lot of people would tend to come down on crime here, but when you compared it to the places where they may be relocating from, it’s a much safer environment.”

A bounty of outdoor and recreational activities helps, as does the fact that Pennsylvania doesn’t tax retirement income, Realtors said.

In the Carlisle area, the magnets for homebuyers include arts and cultural activities as well as a rich history and a strong sense of community, said real estate broker Kay Hock.

“The social aspect is very important,” Hock added. “We have a lot of young professionals come back to this area as they get a little older. There is more to do here than they realized, more family-oriented activities.”

On the flip side, developing affordable housing options for people with entry-level jobs is a challenge, said Jeff Peters, president of the Lancaster County Association of Realtors.

“It’s more of a township issue. It depends on the dynamic they want in new communities,” he said.

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