Demand, improvements push up Lima-area home values

LIMA — The house checked off all the wants for Marcy Valaitis.

It was in a quiet neighborhood with a decent-sized yard. It had a multi-car garage and four bathrooms. It was just what Valaitis and her husband were looking forward to owning, so she put in a bid at the asking price. For a moment, she thought she’d be the home’s new owner.

“We would bid on them, and then they would deny because somebody would always outbid us,” she said. “… This house was low enough that if somebody bid on it, we did this form and we would bid $1,000 more. So then it got to the point where we were the top bid, and we really thought we got it.

“… Then, at the last minute, our Realtor told us we were out-bid at the very end. Last minute, there was a cash bid, with no stipulations, and they won out.”

Cash has been king in the local housing market, as Valaitis found, and it’s taking more and more of it to buy a house. An analysis of data for the Lima market found the average home in the market saw its value increase by 102.4% since 2000, including a 40.8% increase since 2020. The average home in 2024 was worth $133,522 in the Lima metropolitan market in 2024, compared to $65,981 at the turn of the century.

The climbing prices outpaced inflation, too, with a 3.1% annual change in value, compared to a 2.6% annual increase to match inflation, according to the Consumer Price Index’s inflation calculator. That 2000-valued home should be worth $120,671 in today’s dollars after inflation, or nearly $13,000 less than the current average market value of homes.

The post-pandemic era pushed prices up, with people investing in their homes when they had nowhere else to go, then selling them at higher values when people began settling into smaller cities like Lima while increasing their quality of life when they could work from home.

“We as citizens saw how supply and demand works: People willing to pay more to live a little nicer, people having to pay more because nothing was available,” Bailey Joseph, a Realtor with Hartsock Realty, said via email. “Moreso, pay a little more to not have the burden of the upkeep of a house. Overall, we still have some of the lowest cost of living numbers in the country.”

Increased demand, prices

The average sale price of a home in the West Central area was $186,141 in the first four months of 2024, according to statistics from Ohio Realtors, up 8.1% from the same period in 2023. At the same time, the number of units sold increased 3.5%, showing a growing number of people willing to pay more for a home here.

It’s an improved home from what was sold a decade ago, said Elaine Wehri, president of the West Central Ohio Association of Realtors and a real estate agent with CCR Realtors.

“I think people will pay those extra dollars if they know that they can turn the key, get in the house and put everything in there,” she said, noting that aside from investors, most of the clients she sees don’t want to fix up an older home themselves.

Interest rates played a strange role in it. Homebuyers sometimes lose sight of where mortgage rates traditionally should be. From 1979 to 1990, the average 30-year rate was above 10%, according to data from Freddy Mac. It dropped below 5% from 2009 to 2022, giving recent buyers a false sense of where mortgage rates ought to be. In 2023, the average rate was 6.8%.

“Prices have increased in the last three or four years. When the interest rate goes up, then the prices seem like they go up,” Wehri said.

At the same time, prices on building products went up for everything from lumber to appliances, making things more expensive on a fixer-upper. Wehri said she and her husband flip homes in their spare time, often investing $40,000 in repairs and upgrades before hoping to make it back on the sale.

“I think the key when asking why is my rent going up or why are house prices going up is to step back and realize that it sticks out because it is probably the biggest cost for you monthly overall,” Joseph said. “You are spending more at the grocery, more at the pump, more for your healthcare. Each area of life is becoming more expensive, not just your housing.”

Younger clientele

Wehri recently attended a meeting of real estate agents in Washington, D.C., listening to people across the country bemoan that no one wants to buy a home with a white picket fence anymore. They’d rather move into apartments, the other real estate agents said.

“They all got done speaking, and I said I have to disagree with you, because I think it’s the other way around for us,” Wehri said. “I think there are more that do want what mom and dad have, what grandma and grandpa have. I said they want a house, and they take pride in owning a house.”

In 2022, the average homebuyer in Lima was 37 years old and had an income of $76,360 per year, according to data from the National Association of Realtors. Wehri mentioned showing a home to a young couple last week who surprised her with their price range.

“The sale price was $262,000, and they’re like, ‘Well, we can afford that,’” recalled Wehri, who urged buyers and sellers alike to use a real estate agent to tap into their knowledge of current market conditions and to come armed with a pre-approved letter from a lender. “I’m wondering how these people can afford this. They’re fresh out of college.”

Finding a home

Valaitis, who recently married, has plenty of stories to tell about trying to buy a home in this market.

She and her husband found themselves outbid several times on other houses, often by investors with cash in hand who’d swoop in at the last moment.

Her home-buying story hopes to have a happy ending, though. She found a home in the Elida area, and she and her husband are under contract for it. She’s not quite deciding on what color to paint a bedroom yet, though.

“I don’t really have time to dream yet because every night we have more homework,” said Valaitis, who works in the office for the Lima Convalescent Home Foundation. “I come home after being on a computer all day, then I go home, and I’m on the computer again all night, signing paper, going through trying to get insurance quotes, that kind of thing.”

Reach David Trinko at 567-242-0467 or on Twitter @Lima_Trinko.