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Real estate steady in Bucks:
Properties hold their value, location's appeal is a key

by Kathryn Finegan Clark

Bucks and Hunterdon counties are gifted with small towns, farms and
open space. At Peonyland in Richland Township, the crop is flowers.
It is alive with the color of thousands of peonies in late May and
early June.

If you’re ready to buy a house in Bucks or Hunterdon counties that will be lived in and loved for years, go directly to “Go.” There are some great buys out there.

But if you’re churning or flipping houses for quick profit, you might as well table your plans and go directly to jail. This year’s local real estate snapshot does not look like a Monopoly board.

The regional real estate market is steady or better, despite grim economic factors in many parts of this country, according to several top Bucks County Realtors.

“Bucks County’s been steady. It’s not a bad market,” said Tom Skiffington, president of the Bucks County Association of Realtors.

“But it is a market that requires a little patience on the part of the seller. Houses were selling so quickly before, the public has become spoiled. Many homes are selling in less than 90 days which is actually quicker than normal,” he said.

“Values did creep down a little, but there’s a lot of inventory,” he said. Working with Re/Max 440, he specializes in homes in Bucks, Montgomery and Lehigh counties. “It’s a buyer’s market right now,” he said.

Realtor Carol C. Dorey of the Springtown agency bearing her name, attributed the attraction to this region to “the beauty of the area.”

“In the upper part of Bucks County,” she noted, “the wonderful farm properties are the biggest draw. One thing that has had an impact on the market is the list of people who have made application for conservation easements. In Upper Bucks, that list is growing phenomenally.” This provides assurance to the buyer that the property will hold or even increase its value and be beautiful for future generations, she said.

So far as length of time on the market is concerned, Dorey said, in August she had a property listed for $2 million under agreement in a week. It sold for the asking price. “In the upper price ranges,’’ she said, “there always are people who are looking for the right property.” And there are a lot of upper price range properties in the central and northern part of the county, a characteristic shared with Hunterdon County.

For those a little lower on the income scale, especially first-time home buyers, the new package of legislation signed in early August by President Bush was happy news for buyers and sellers.

“With a tax credit now available to first-time home buyers, increases in home sales could be sustained with the momentum carrying into 2009,” Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors, said recently.

Realtor Nina Burns of the New Hope-Lambertville Office of Weidel Realtors, said the market in Bucks and Hunterdon is very similar. She works primarily within a 15 to 20 mile radius of the twin towns. She said most of her buyers are people who are “just in love with the area.”

She said, “People are coming back, too. They’ve lived here before and maybe moved to California for 15 or 20 years and they move back again. She said friends, worried about the economy, are always asking her how she’s doing. “I’m busy,” she said, “but we do have to work a little harder now.”

Michael Strickland of Addison Wolfe, which considers itself a boutique real estate firm, said, “The buyers are there if the property is presented well.”

He works generally in northern Bucks and the Lehigh Valley, where homes also have maintained their property values, but the company also handles transactions in New Jersey.

Strickland expects to see a spike in sales shortly with the arrival of executives for the new Sands Casino Resort to open early next year in Bethlehem.

Realtor Frank Dolski attributes the healthy regional housing market to that old mantra, “Location. Location. Location.”

“That’s the primary reason,” he said. “This area’s central to New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia.” About 70 percent of sales at his office, Coldwell Banker Hearthside in Lahaska, are driven by relocation. Dolski, whose territory centers in Central Bucks, said, “Buyers are waiting – and the price of homes has only decreased slightly. It’s new construction that’s getting hammered.”

Scott Freeman of Coldwell Banker Hearthside-Mitchell Williams in Ottsville agreed the market is healthy. “Bucks and Hunterdon are relatively close to so much but far enough away to be appealing,” he said.

The fact that banks keep tightening up their lending has caused confidence to erode for some buyers, he noted—and he has seen a few cases where “buyers are scared and sellers are so greedy that they’re not getting the deal.” Nevertheless, he said existing homes “offer some really good deals.”

Copyright 2009 Bucks County Herald, Inc. All rights reserved.

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