Upbeat local real estate market bucks trend, 'best in years'

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

There's one way to avoid a crash - don't stand on the edge of the cliff to begin with.

Such is the case with Storm Lake's real estate market, which is enjoying an exceptionally strong year even as other parts of the country hit the highly-publicized bottom.

"I've been in this business 21 years, and this is the strongest year I've ever seen in the local home market," says Joe Aube, of Real Estate Specialists in Storm Lake.

"We put one house on the market last week and within four days an offer was made and accepted," he said.

Aube, president of the local Multiple Listing Service for this year, credits local banks for helping to avoid any real estate downturn in the area. Home values and loan strategy didn't skyrocket out of control, so while other areas plummeted back to reality, Storm Lake has been stable and even shown growth.

"You don't get the high peaks here, but you also don't get the bottoming out. This is still an agricultural economy area, and people here didn't get in way over their heads" like you might have seen in Florida or elsewhere, Aube said.

More affordable housing is always in highest demand here, he says, but right now Storm Lake may also have the best selection of $100,000 to $150,000 homes that has been on the market in some time. And when it comes to the high-end lakefront housing, a property can move pretty quick. "There's isn't a big supply of lakefront places that come on the market, but if they do, there is interest right now."

Storm Lake's housing stock still has room to grow, he believes.

"Homes have been taken out for other developments such as Methodist Manor and the university in recent years, and we are still trying to compensate for that," says Aube.

Local demand is highest in Storm Lake and Alta, but growing interest can now be seen farther out into the area in towns such as Aurelia.

There are currently about 60 houses on the market in Storm Lake alone, and another 10-15 with offers outstanding.

Margie Robinson of Century 21 Real Estate is equally upbeat.

"The Storm Lake market is not at all like what you see in the news. The local banks here are ready and willing to make home buyer loans. We haven't seen a big drop at all," she says.

In the current economy, some potential buyers are wondering if interest rates will fall further than the current 6 percent range. "The interest situation is fairly attractive, and people can always take it and then refinance if interest should get substantially lower," Robinson said.

Most experts agree that it is a buyer's market. What to buy - now that's another question.

"Depending on the price range a person is looking for, there may be a lot, or very little," Robinson says of the community.

"People are always looking for homes under the $100,000 mark. Above $300,000 the number of potential buyers gets a lot smaller, as do the number of properties," she said.

Clean, ready-to-move-in houses are always in hot demand, and ranch styles are probably the most popular in Storm Lake. There is also a lot of interest right now in acreages as people look for a home in the country.

Investment properties are also gaining interest. While the stock market has stumbled, people will always need a place to live, and with rental housing in good demand in Storm Lake, some people are looking to invest in properties to rent out.

"As of Monday, we had 140 houses listen on the Multiple Listing Service - ranging from a $12,000 home in Quimby to a $498,000 home on the lake at Storm Lake," Robinson said.

The number of listings is running about average for the community.

"I've very optimistic, and I think all of the real estate offices locally would be pretty positive about the situation in Storm Lake," Robinson said.

What advice would the real estate pros have for prospective buyers?

Above all else, stick with the tried and true local banks, Aube says.

"I stress that all the time. You might see a program somewhere that looks attractive on the surface, but there might be hidden costs. To an outside bank, you're just a number," he says. "Try to get prequalified for your home loan as much as possible - all of our local banks have said they would do that for their customers, and at no charge."

The owner broker is so enthused about the future of the area that he is making his own move.

Real Estate Specialists of Storm Lake will soon be moving into the former site of Iowa Office Supply on Lake Avenue in Storm Lake, he announced. The building is now undergoing some renovations.

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