Beaver County

11 News speaks with real estate agents concerning market after East Palestine train derailment

DARLINGTON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Channel 11 spoke with real estate agents concerning the market after the train derailment in East Palestine.

“I’m just petrified,” said Ronnie Johnston.

Ronnie Johnston put his house on Park Avenue in East Palestine on the market in November 2022. Since the derailment on Feb. 3, three people backed out of seeing his property, and it hasn’t had a showing since.

“We have a creek on one side of the property and the railroad tracks on the other side of the property,” said Johnston. “That’s really killed people’s interest.”

He’s paying two mortgages in East Palestine right now. He found a new home and was hoping to sell his old, completely renovated, home rather quickly prior to the derailment.

“I set myself up for 12 months that I can afford to have this place on the market, and now I’m looking at years for people to be even interested in this market again,” said Johnston.

His realtor, Dennis Gonatas of J Arnold Real Estate Advisors, said no one knows the long-term impact the derailment will have on the local housing market.

“You hear about factory workers getting sick, wildlife dying,” said Gonatas. “It’s really making this market here locally really difficult to sell.”

Currently, there are seven homes for sale in the East Palestine School District. Since the derailment, Gonatas says three homeowners pulled their properties off the market.

“Right when it happened on February 3, there was about a 30% withdraw of homes from the market,” said Gonatas. “When you’re talking three-four withdrew. You look at the pool of homes that are for sale in the market, that’s a big percentage.”

“We also know residents are worried about their home values,” Norfolk Southern said in a recent news release. “While we are working with local leaders on investments to support the community’s long-term prosperity, we understand these concerns. We are committed to working with the community to provide tailored protection for home sellers if their property loses value due to the impact of the derailment.”

“Long term effects, we don’t know,” said Gonatas. “Right now, today, their property has lost value because of the derailment.”

“I already have a $25,000 loss in property value which is going to go down every day,” said Johnston. “How are you going to compensate us for that? They’re the ones that caused it. They’re the ones that are extending the market time. So I think they should pick up the house. They should have the expense of floating it for the time frame until it sells, and it shouldn’t be us.”

Just across the state line in Darlington Township, the housing market remains steady. Beaver County Association of Realtors Board President and Realtor Denise Molchen-Donnelly said at this time, the derailment hasn’t impacted that area of Pennsylvania.

“I spoke with someone in Darlington just yesterday asking what about our home values and what can we do to keep them where they’re at,” said Molchen-Donnelly. “At this point in time, I think it’s too soon to say a whole lot of anything. There’s just so many unknowns.”

She said it’s important to stay on the course and to not panic.

“The last thing you want to do at this point is ‘I have to sell,’” said Molchen-Donnelly. “‘I gotta sell. I gotta sell,’ I think that would be detrimental to yourself. I think that would be detrimental to your community. I personally wouldn’t take that action at this time.”

Meanwhile, Gonatas said he just wrote a letter on behalf of Ohio Realtors that was turned it into the Attorney General’s Office to be part of a recent lawsuit that was filed.

“We had people leave the state,” said Gonatas. “They were looking to buy this home. They canceled, and they ended up buying a home in West Virginia. So not only did we end up losing a resident here, but the state of Ohio lost tax dollars and income from those people as well so it’s affecting a wider area. It’s hard to tell the long-term effects it’s going to have on the market until unfortunately we’re in it. We’re in it now, but unfortunately, it’s going to be a little bit before we see the long-term damage it’s done.”

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