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In the dead of winter, Columbus’ housing market heats up

Buyers in central Ohio city can face upwards of 30 offers when trying to purchase a home ranked it fifth in its list of housing markets positioned for growth in 2022. iBuyer OfferPad launched its services there last fall. It’s not Salt Lake City, Boise or even the surprisingly hot market of Manchester, New Hampshire. It’s Columbus, Ohio.

Located in central Ohio, Columbus is the capital of the Buckeye state and home to L Brands, the parent company of Victoria Secret, Bath and Body Works, and Abercrombie and Fitch; Nationwide Insurance; the NHL team the Columbus Blue Jackets; and Ohio State University.

“We have the best of both worlds in Columbus,” local RE/MAX agent Brandon Prewitt said. “We have a small-town feel, but we also have some bigger city amenities, like pro sports teams and areas like the Short North Arts District. It is also a pretty affordable city, especially compared to other major metropolitan areas, and we are really centrally located.”

But like in many places, increased demand has collided with record low inventory. (On the day HousingWire spoke with local Keller Williams agent Tracy Keffer, her MLS showed just 1,066 homes for sale across all of central Ohio.) 

In December, the median home sales price in Columbus rose 12.7% year over year to $235,000, according to Redfin. While longtime local agents and residents are continually surprised to see “average” houses go for prices like this in the area, it is still well below the national median of $345,348 recorded in the same month.

“It is a really tough market to be a homebuyer,” Prewitt said. “I think a big challenge is that, population wise, we are the fastest growing city in Ohio based on the most recent census. But our building and creation of new housing inventory has not kept that same pace, so we just don’t have enough supply.”

Local agents say that the increased demand is coming from a variety of sources, including local first-time homebuyers, as well as so-called “boomerang buyers” who are originally from Columbus or went to school at Ohio State and moved away for job opportunities, only to move back now that they have increased work from home flexibility due to the Covid pandemic.

“A lot of folks have moved from higher priced, more densely populated places like New York City, Chicago and California,” Prewitt said. “And a lot of times they either went to OSU or they grew up here. They are familiar with Columbus and they just want to come back.”

Due to this increase in demand and the ongoing inventory shortage, multiple offer situations have become the norm in Columbus, even this winter, when agents say they typically see competition for homes die down.

“Typically, whenever there is a snowstorm, things slow down for a few days, but this year people are out no matter what,” Keffer said. “We have extremely low inventory, so whenever you have a property on the market that is in a popular price point in a good location, everyone is on it. Seeing five to 15 offers even in the middle of winter is not rare this year.”

These conditions have been challenging for clients of local Redfin agent Caitlyn Mulroy. “There was one house in Worthington listed for $250,000 and it was in decent shape, but it needed some cosmetic updates,” she explained. “They ended up with 35 offers on the house and it sold for $320,000. We then found another home in the Berwick area listed for $219,900 and we went in at $240,000, but there were 21 offers all together and someone came in higher than we did.”

In December, 47.9% of homes in Columbus sold above list price, a year-over-year increase of 7.5 percentage points, leading to prices many local agents never thought they would see in Columbus.

“I grew up here and have always worked in this market and the prices I am seeing homes in the area go for now, just makes me go ‘Wow,’” Prewitt said. “Columbus has historically been known for being quite affordable, but right now we are really struggling with affordability. Not that long ago $250,000 could buy you a decent house and $150,000 was a solid budget for a first -time buyer, but unless you are willing to deal with a huge project, you probably won’t find a house at that price point.”

While homes are sitting on the market for a median of 40 days, according to Redfin, local agents say that homes in desirable locations at affordable price points are barely lasting a weekend.

“There have been quite a few instances where they start showings on a Friday and they get so much traffic that they request all offers be in by Saturday night,” Mulroy said. “More typically you’ll see homes go up earlier in the week with a ‘coming soon’ sign and then they request all offers in by Sunday night and by end of day Monday it has gone pending.”

These intense market conditions have resulted in a decent amount of buyer frustration and buyer fatigue.

“With the buyers it is all about education and letting them know exactly what this market is like,” Lori Hicks, a local Keller Williams agent said. “For some of them this market is really frustrating. It can take them five or six tries to get a house.”

As we head further into the spring and summer markets, Hicks expects the current market conditions to continue, but she is hopeful that more inventory will come up in the next few months.

“People typically like to list in the spring, so once inventory starts picking up again, some of the buyers that are still in the market will be able to get into a home and then the buyers that maybe couldn’t do appraisal gaps or cash offers, will be able to get into homes later in the summer,” Hicks said. “So still a very competitive market, but maybe a little less so.”