When Jeff and Monica Rapini decided in late April to sell their North Buffalo home, their agent set the price at $145,900.
She posted the listing online at 2:30 p.m. on a Tuesday. Within hours, five prospective buyers had toured the home, followed by seven more the next day.
The Rapinis received three offers within 24 hours and sold the home for $186,700 – 28 percent more than their asking price and 76 percent more than they paid seven year ago.
The Western New York real estate market is red hot. Prices are at all-time highs, with the annual average price topping $146,000. In some sections of Buffalo – near the Elmwood Strip, Allentown, North Buffalo and parts of the West Side – bidding wars that take prices above asking have become common. Suburbs like Williamsville, East Amherst, East Aurora, Hamburg, Lancaster and Eggertsville are seeing bidding wars, too.
The pace is intense, with even a day’s hesitation making the difference between a signed deal and a missed opportunity. “Getting your foot in the door the day the house goes on the market is key,” said Tammy Capozzi, a broker at M.J. Peterson Corp. “Good houses don’t last.”
The culprit: Too many buyers and not enough sellers. The number of homes for sale, compared with the number for sale a year ago, has declined 28 of the past 30 months, according to data from the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors. In the first four months of this year, the number of homes for sale in the eight counties of Western New York hovered just above 4,000 – the lowest it has been in a decade.
Not everyone is seeing speedy sales, multiple bids and big sale prices. The key seems to be that old real estate truism: location, location, location.
Richard and Meghan Wagner of West Seneca have been trying for six weeks to sell their home. Over the years, they have refinished walls, added a heated garage, an expanded driveway, more efficient heating and modern upgrades. But their home is located across a busy street from a new housing development.
“It’s been kind of a weird thing. There were tons of people looking at the house the first three weeks ... but nothing happened,” Richard Wagner said. “It’s just kind of depressing. You think you have a gem and nobody wants what you have.”
But for sellers in hot neighborhoods and towns, watch out.
“It is absolutely the best time to be a seller,” said Bonnie Clement, a broker for Hunt Real Estate Corp. “Never has the seller’s market been this hot.”
The hottest of the hot
Jennifer Brown of Cheektowaga and her fiancé, Adrian Levesque of Buffalo, have looked at nearly 30 homes since early April, mostly in Elmwood Village but also in areas like Kenmore or Tonawanda. At one point recently, their agent sent them seven homes to look at. They chose four to see, but two were gone in two days.
“We haven’t had the chance” to make any offers, said Brown, 31. She added: “They are just going like hotcakes. What I’m hearing is everybody has the same issues, and not getting frustrated is the biggest key. It stinks. I’m a little surprised.”
The price per square foot – a standard measure of value regardless of the size of the home – has soared or even doubled in some city neighborhoods in just the last year, according to data from the Realtors association. In Allentown near the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus in central Buffalo, the selling price per square foot has doubled. In nearby Elmwood Village, prices per square foot have risen nearly 50 percent.
The popularity of these areas is driven by a combination of older buyers wanting to migrate back to the city from the suburbs and a new generation of younger buyers who want to live near their place of work, in walkable neighborhoods. These areas are also convenient to the new hustle and bustle of downtown and the Medical Campus, and that proximity is pushing up prices whenever a property hits the market.
Pressure on buyers
Areas such as the West Side of Buffalo and University Heights are getting more attention from buyers as prices rise in other areas. Rafael Toledo, an agent with Nothnagle Property Centre, said he and his wife – also a broker – were “shocked” when their clients received an offer at $70,000 for a double home on Plymouth Avenue on the West Side that was listed at $49,000.
“There’s a huge movement of people from the suburbs back into the city,” said Michael Culeton of Hunt. “We’re seeing neighborhoods that were less desirable in the past becoming more so. Those neighborhoods are becoming renovated.”
And there are a lot of cash offers, with no conditions or contingencies attached, such as the need to sell a prior home first.
“We’re seeing a lot of cash buyers as well, which is making it harder to compete,” said Jennifer Maxian, also a broker at Hunt. “It’s really hard to be a buyer with a contingent offer now, because the competition from other buyers that don’t have that contingency makes them more attractive.”
That’s stressful for buyers, who feel pressured to make snap decisions. “If you love a house, you don’t have the luxury of waiting long to decide,” said Hunt broker Robyn Cannata.
Buyers are getting used to seeing crowds when a home is being shown at an open house.
“We have well-qualified purchasers ready to go, eagerly searching for their dream homes, and there simply isn’t the selection there should be at this time of the year,” said Sue Chaskes, an agent at J. Lawrence Realty, who helped the Rapinis.
After the sale
For sellers who want to stay in Western New York, the problem is finding a home after theirs has sold. With a baby on the way and twin girls under age 2, Eric and Jamie Posa wanted more space. So on March 10, they listed their four-bedroom raised-ranch home in Amherst, near University at Buffalo’s South Campus.
All week, they got calls from buyers, but they couldn’t arrange to show it until an open house March 16, a Sunday. Thirty people came through, two buyers did second walk-throughs Tuesday, and by Wednesday morning, the Posas had two offers – one at full price of $119,000. They had bought it for $86,000 six years ago.
“We didn’t think it was going to go that quickly,” said Eric Posa, a 35-year-old business owner.
They had to be out in 60 days, and didn’t have a new place to go other than with family. Posa said they wanted a house in the $150,000 to $160,000 range, ideally toward the Southtowns near his wife’s family, but they considered properties all over the region. In all, they looked at “a couple of hundred” homes online, went to more than 15 open houses and scheduled showings at more than half a dozen homes. Homes were priced $15,000 to $20,000 over their actual value, he said, and “every open house had 30-plus people.”
Ultimately, they found a 1,700-square-foot Colonial home in Hamburg that was listed at $152,900. But more than one bidder was involved, so they wound up paying $159,000.
“The homebuying experience was ridiculous. It was very stressful,” Posa said. “Every house we looked at that was in decent shape, well-kept and reasonably priced was getting huge amounts of traction. The inventory was frustrating.”
Seeking more sellers
The approach of summer is encouraging more potential sellers to get off the fence, especially after so much attention on the opportunity to cash out. That is what brokers have been urging for months, to relieve the inventory shortage.
The warmer weather also is likely to bring out more buyers, who have been cooped up all winter and are now eager to see what’s out there.
“If you are a buyer, don’t plan on things changing for the next few months,” said Clement. “We are running around like chickens to try and catch the newly listed homes, which sell in a day.”
David Moon has been saving up money to buy his first home for the past couple of years. He started looking online at listings last year, and started working with an agent in February.
He is seeking a double on Buffalo’s West Side, anticipating lower prices in that area while benefiting from the extra rental income from the second unit. But after three months of fruitless hunting, he’s frustrated.
The 34-year-old smoking cessation coach at Roswell Park Cancer Institute put in an offer last week on a two-unit house on Lafayette Avenue, bidding $2,000 more than the asking price. But he lost out in less than 24 hours – to someone paying the full asking price, but all in cash, without inspection.
“I was not expecting this. I really expected there was going to be way more inventory and there just hasn’t been,” he said. “I’m disappointed in what I’ve seen ... I might have to consider looking beyond the West Side, because it’s just not working.”