It’s a seller’s market for real estate in Grant County and most of Eastern Oregon.

The demand for housing skyrocketed in 2020, and brokers in the county remain busy into the new year, selling houses and land as the supply of available homes run low.

Jerry Franklin, the principal broker and owner of East Oregon Realty, said in his 35 years of experience, he has never seen such a drastic increase in interested buyers.

“The real estate market has been very active, and last year was the busiest year I’ve had in 35 years,” Franklin said. “This year is starting to look the same way.”

Wendy Cates, the principal broker at Country Preferred Realty, said many homes spend a short time on the market as abundant offers are coming in over the asking price.

“It’s been really busy, and we about sold everything in our office,” Cates said. “Almost everything in our office is either sold or pending. There’s not enough supply for the demand.”

By the numbers

At the current rate of sales per month, Grant County’s residential property inventory would only last 4 months if no new properties were listed, according to a December 2020 Market Action report from Regional Multiple Listing Service. The metric divides active residential listings at the end of the month by the number of closed sales that month. In December 2019, the inventory was 14.7 months.

Nine new listings in December 2020 increased the inventory, which was only 1.7 months in November 2020. From August through November 2020, the inventory was 2.1 months or less.

Since June 2020, the inventory has been 4.3 months or less. In 2019, only two months had such a low inventory, and in 2018, the lowest inventory was 6.2 months, according to RMLS.

Homes spent an average of 76 days on the market in November 2020, compared to 96 days in November 2019, according to RMLS.

Average home prices increased from $163,300 in 2019 to $250,400 in 2020, a 53.3% rise, according to the Market Action report.

“The values are going up, and that’s good for the sellers,” Franklin said, “... (but) our prices, compared to different areas around the state and surrounding states, is like a kid in a candy shop with how low they are.”

Cates said several homes that sold a year ago would make a profit if relisted in the current market.

Franklin said low interest rates continue to attract more buyers, especially when a loan is penciled out by 15 or 30 years with a fixed rate.

Eastern Oregon demand

Franklin said his inventory is currently down by around 75% of what he normally carries.

“That’s why we’re trying to promote more people who want to sell because, if they want to, now is a good time to start,” Franklin said.

The trend is also happening in other parts of Eastern Oregon.

“We have super-low inventory. This is the lowest I can remember,” John Howard, the owner of John Howard Real Estate & Associates in Baker City, La Grande and Pendleton, told the La Grande Observer.

Franklin, who used to work in Baker County, said it is experiencing the same boom.

Cates said land sales have been increasing as well, giving people the option to construct a new home. Also a property manager, she said rental opportunities are rarer than homes to buy in Grant County.

New construction

Franklin said additional housing is desperately needed. He said he is trying to get builders to construct homes, but that has been difficult because of high prices on materials.

The National Association of Home Builders reported that spikes in softwood lumber prices at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic caused the price of an average, new single-family home to increase by nearly $16,000.

Statistics from the NAHB showed that the price of lumber was almost $500 per thousand board feet on June 19. The price steadily rose until it peaked on Sept. 11 to just over $900.

The price of lumber fell again to a low of $500 in late October, but now the price of lumber is nearly $900 again, as of Jan. 29.

The information is sourced each week using the Random Lengths Framing Lumber Composite, which is comprised using prices from the highest volume-producing regions of the U.S. and Canada.

Real estate sales drastically increased in 2020, but the amount of new residential homes being built has remained about the same, according to Shannon Springer, Grant County planning director.

“I know Realtors are busy right now, and we have talked to lots of people, but that lag between talking to people and getting something built is sometimes pretty substantial,” Springer said.

In 2019, there were 14 site-built dwelling permits that were new and 10 manufactured home placing permits, she said. In 2020, there were 11 site-built dwelling permits including one duplex and eight manufactured dwelling permits.

Springer said builders must also line up contractors for the work.

“It’s so much easier to buy something and make a few upgrades or fix-ups than to start from scratch,” Springer said. “There’s a lot of moving pieces.”

Why now?

Buyers wanting peace, quiet, less traffic and less people make up a majority of the people Cates worked with during the last year.

“That’s a lot of what buyers are looking for when they call me,” Cates said. “From Portland, Boise and all around, they just want a quiet community to lay back.”

Franklin said people are moving into the county from all around the west side of the nation thanks to the efforts from everybody to promote the area, but the development of future businesses in the county is also generating excitement for interested buyers.

“With the Dollar General going in and the city working on their developments and the chamber promoting Grant County and the possibility of Prairie Wood (reopening), I feel better about the direction we’re going right now than I have probably since I moved here,” Franklin said.

Reporter

Rudy Diaz is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. Contact him at rudy@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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