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Real estate market hotter than ever during pandemic

PITTSBURGH — While the pandemic has been financially challenging for so many businesses, there’s one industry that’s actually become more lucrative in the last year.

“I don’t think we’ve seen numbers like this ever in our lives,” said Elizabeth Kofmehl, a realtor with Coldwell Banker, based out of Squirrel Hill.

Experts say historically low interest rates and low housing inventory have resulted in a major boom for the real estate market. Kofmehl said the demand is also driven by millennials forming families and setting their sights on the suburbs.

Georgie Smigel, a realtor based out of Cranberry, said homes sell in a flash, and often receive numerous offers. We spoke with one of her clients, Emily Kendrick, who ended up with six different offers after her home was on the market for 48 hours.

“We were shocked,” Kendrick said.

Both Smigel and Kofmehl said offers often come in above asking price, and homes sell for more than they perhaps would have one year ago.

The pandemic may have even triggered the demand; now, many people are having to work and learn from home. Smigel said “open concept” houses are less popular, as people seek more separation. She said buyers are also looking for more outdoor space, and even pools.

“Shared air space is something people really aren’t looking for, so single-family homes or condos or townhomes with a private entrance are more popular.”

People are also willing to expand their searches, as there may no longer be a need to live close to their workplaces. Kofmehl said that means people are even buying up property at places like Seven Springs, seeking more of a “mountain lifestyle.” She said some folks make offers before setting foot inside a home, now that virtual 3D tours have become more popular in the COVID era.

“The market has been on fire,” she said.

But for some buyers, the market can feel discouraging. Alexandra Valliant and her husband currently live in an apartment and have been looking for a house for nearly six months.

“Every time we see anything and share it with each other, by the end of the day, I feel like it’s contingent or pending half of the time,” she said.

They also know what it feels like to be outbid “significantly.” Now, like many buyers, they are wondering whether it’s best to hold off on buying, but perhaps risk rising interest rates.

“I really don’t think it’s in buyers’ best interest to wait for the market to flatten out,” Smigel said, noting that homes have been continuing to appreciate each year.

Valliant said they are trying to remain positive.

“Something will come on the market eventually, that’s what we keep telling ourselves!”

But like all things, the pandemic has proved life is unpredictable, and the housing market isn’t an exception. For now, however, it’s remained a bright spot during tough economic times.

“I tell people, ‘I’m not just a realtor. I’m selling homes, but I’m also driving the economy,’” Kofmehl said. “The local economy is growing because I’m selling your house... someone’s hiring a plumber, a painter, we’re fueling the whole job market here.”