There's good news about the county's housing market.
Doug Foltz, president of Lancaster County Association of Realtors and branch manager at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, Lancaster, says home sales in 2017 were up 2½ percent from 2016.
However there's still a shortage of inventory. A five- to six-month supply of homes for sale is considered a balanced market, Foltz explains; the county is seeing a two- to three-month supply, and LCAR figures indicate the number of new homes on the market in the county is down 6 percent relative to the number in 2016.
"The areas that are hit hardest are the more rural areas of the county, such as the Solanco and Manheim Central districts. There are a lot of farms in those areas, and even though there have been some new housing developments in places like Rapho Township, they may be almost built-out," he says.
School districts and taxes related to those school districts are often factors buyers consider, as well as the amenities of the specific property.
Manheim Township School District had the highest average sales price of the county's school districts, Foltz says. The average price of homes sold in the district is over $300,000, a figure that represents a 6 percent increase compared to home sales in the district in 2016.
The School District of Lancaster, which includes properties in the Lancaster city and Lancaster Township, saw the most sales in 2017.
"Lancaster is trending for both millennials and older adults; they both like being able to walk to restaurants, Gallery Row and other cultural activities," Foltz says.
Pricing in the city is attractive for millennials, who may be first-time homebuyers and single, he says, adding that although the average sale price rose 12 percent last year, the city is still affordable.
The west side of the city near Franklin & Marshall College continues to be in high demand. The homes in that area are nice, Foltz says, and there's a mix of housing choices, including single-family and semi-detached as well as some that have detached garages that are accessed by an alley.
"One market segment that's surprising some people are higher-end homes that are being flipped in the city,” Foltz says. “Flippers have done some higher-end projects in the Chestnut Hill area. Generally, they'll come in and renovate properties, giving them the modern amenities that are in demand, and the prices those homes command are more than the rest of the area."
Foltz cites a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home in the 400 block of West Walnut Street that sold in June 2017 for $294,000. Its features include hardwood floors, exposed brick walls, a new kitchen with leathered granite countertops and a master suite with walk-in tiled shower and double-bowl vanity.
A property in the 400 block of West Orange Street sold for $310,000 in November 2017. The completely renovated three- bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home features hardwood floors, exposed brick walls, crown molding, an updated kitchen with a custom-made waterfall island and tile backsplash, and a master suite with tiled shower, claw-foot tub and walk-in closet.
Additionally the downtown area has several condo projects, such as the Lancaster Press Building, that Foltz says have been popular with a wide range of age groups.
Another hot sales area is Columbia Borough School District, which includes properties in Columbia Borough. LCAR data indicates that sales in the district were up 33 percent in 2017 over 2016, Foltz says, with 194 residential properties sold in 2017 versus 145 in 2016.
"Columbia is still the most affordable school district in the county,” Foltz says. “The average residential sale price in the county is over $200,000. In Columbia, you can still get a home under $100,000 — the average price rose in 2017 to $98,000; it was $83,000 in 2016.
“One factor that may be driving some buyers to Columbia is a new LHOP program to Columbia," he says.
Ray D'Agostino, CEO of Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership (LHOP), says the organization's Columbia Housing Improvement and Home Ownership Loan program was rolled out in March 2017. It's a partnership between LHOP, Columbia Borough and Lancaster County Housing Redevelopment Authority.
"We've been working with Columbia Borough officials on this program for several years. The idea is to encourage more home ownership in the borough rather than rental properties," he says. "There's also a component to encourage homeowners to make improvements."
With regard to the homebuyers program for eligible low- to moderate-income first-time homebuyers, D'Agostino says the borough agreed to provide a match to LHOP's $5,000 closing cost assistance no-interest loan, which raises the figure to $10,000. In the program’s first 10 months, there were 15 new homeowners in the borough, he says. The homeowner rehab program is just getting underway, so he does not have any data for that program.
In addition to home prices, Foltz says there are other factors that attract buyers to Columbia. The borough was named one of "The 20 Best Small Towns to Visit" in 2014 by Smithsonian Magazine. There's an interest in revitalizing the downtown area with some shops and restaurants. There are also a number of parks and playgrounds, including River Park and the Columbia Crossing River Trails Center. Columbia Crossing is also the southern trailhead for the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail.
Another housing trend are age-restricted, or 55-plus communities, such as Traditions of America's developments in Rapho and Warwick townships and Watson Run in Gordonville.
"It's a lifestyle change,” Foltz says. “People are looking to downsize in terms of the lot and outside maintenance responsibilities, but also want a sizeable home with amenities such as a clubhouse, pool and walking trails."