Bay City-area housing market experiences growth during the pandemic

Home-for-sale signs are popping up alongside the spring blossoms in Bay County yards. The local housing market is booming, with a record-setting number of homes selling in the last year.

Local real estate experts point to several different factors as likely causes of the housing boom. But no matter what’s behind the record-setting sales, and corresponding rising home values, it’s putting smiles on the faces of sellers.

Over the last year home values jumped 10%, says City Assessor Wade Slivik, adding that “people are buying up homes faster than they’re being put on the market.”

The trend has been slowly growing over the last decade. A year ago, though, Slivik wasn’t sure if that would continue in the face of a global pandemic. Now, Slivik, who analyzes the data daily, says he is pleasantly surprised with what’s happened. Over the last year in Bay City home sales totaled 571, a record high.

“I had absolutely no idea. I would never have predicted such a hot market,” Slivik says “It’s incredible to see.”

Slivik says he can’t pinpoint exactly why Bay City seems to be a hot spot right now. Other real estate experts in the area see a variety of causes.

Chris Girard, who owns Girard Investments with his wife, Molly, says whether it’s rentals or purchases, people are looking to move into Bay City and the surrounding area. “We just listed a four-bedroom house, and in 24 hours we’ve had 300 people contact us.”

He sees a mix of buyers.

'Really there are opportunities that Bay City has with our housing. It is a great place to live. People want to plant their roots and with what’s happening with the pandemic, and people can work from home, why not find a place in a hometown you really want to be in?'

- Chris Girard of Girard Investments

“We get a share of people moving into the area for jobs. Some people are from the area and want to stay here and we get a lot of first-time renters, but there are a lot of young families looking for homes. The market is just super-tight right now.”

Whatever their motive, the need for single family housing is so great, Girard says people are willing to pay $1,000 a month to rent mobile homes.

Jenifer Acosta, developer and commercial real estate developer, says the shortage of inventory means sellers need to be prepared to move fast.

“We’re in a housing market that if people want to sell, it’s going to move quickly, so they need to have a plan for where they’re going.” For example, she says she recently listed her mother’s home in Auburn and had it under contract within six days.  

Acosta says part of what’s generating so many buyers is mortgage interest rates are low right now. “People are interested in purchasing homes that maybe were renters in the past,” she says. People also recognize that a home is an investment. In the last year, health experts recommended people stay at home as much as possible to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“With COVID and the pandemic, people are willing to invest and housing is more of a priority. We are all at home, and you can do remote work from anywhere, so a lot of people decided that if I’m going to be working remotely, I really need a larger home, and I need a home with an office.”

'Bay City is a phenomenal community to be able to do some of these things. We are an affordable community with a great quality of life.'

- Jen Acosta of Jenifer Acosta Development

Like Girard, Acosta says she believes people are choosing to live in Bay City again. In addition, during the COVID-19 closures, many people had the opportunity to save a down payment on a house.

In addition to a shortage of single-family homes, the community also has a shortage of one specific type of real estate that’s in high demand right now, Acosta says. It’s known as “missing middle housing,” which is a range of house-scale buildings with multiple units located in a walkable neighborhood. Think duplexes or fourplexes. The units are similar in style and size to detached single-family homes. To read more about Acosta and her efforts to develop this type of housing, see this Route Bay City article from August.

“There’s really a variety of reasons and we’re seeing more of a market need to find ways to build missing middle housing and quality housing within the city,” Acosta says. “We’re finding more and more that these things are really wanted by people. The more housing choices we would have in the market, the more it would free up the single-family homes.”

Currently, Acosta says she has a waiting list for her downtown properties including The Times Lofts at 311 Fifth St. and The Legacy at 213 Center Ave.

'It’s nice to see that there’s a demand for this area, and that sale prices reflect that.'

- Wade Slivik, Bay City Assessor

Acosta pays a lot of attention to the area housing markets. In addition to her Bay City projects, she also works as a housing specialist in Midland County, serves as a consultant to investors looking to get in on some of the downtown development, and teaches small scale investment.

“It’s a really great time for people who are interested in doing some local investment,” Acosta says. “There are a lot of opportunities to add housing and have more housing choice throughout the city.

“Really, what we find is that it’s not about building more housing, but it’s ensuring that we have a diversity of housing types. We have a lot of opportunity in our community for adding housing choice.”

Downtown isn’t the only place seeing growth. Slivik says the growth is spread throughout the city.

“A lot of growth is coming to areas that didn’t really have too much growth compared to others,” he says.

The South End, and north side, especially the Banks area just west of the bridges on Wilder Road, is where he’s noticed the most growth recently. Slivik also says he’s seeing people purchase homes and renovate them, “increasing the life of the house.”

Slivik says the average life expectancy of a house is around 100 years, but “what’s so interesting in Bay City is that there has been so much maintenance and improved life of the homes, you’re seeing so much vigor in the market right now.”

While Slivik says there is a market for homes needing some TLC, Acosta says she also sees the opposite.

“Properties that are updated are in more high demand,” she says. “We need more move-in ready properties within the city. Taking on a fixer-upper is not for everyone, so if you’ve got properties that are not updated, we need companies that can come in and do the work.”

People are investing in housing, whether it’s young families looking to leave rental units and purchase their first homes or people moving into the area for work.

At the heart of the growth is that Bay City offers attractive features for first-time home buyers and investors.

“If you look around the state of Michigan, home values especially in Bay City are very affordable,” Slivik says.

“It’s nice to see that it’s moving into a positive direction. There is still further room to grow, but it’s such a nice thing to see from a pandemic. It’s nice to see that there’s a demand for this area, and that sale prices reflect that.”

Acosta also touts the benefits of Bay City life.

“We kind of take for granted that other people look at this and say ‘Wow, this is so much easier,’ or ‘This is so nice to have.’ Bay City is a phenomenal community to be able to do some of these things,” she says. “We are an affordable community with a great quality of life.”

Girard agrees.

“Really there are opportunities that Bay City has with our housing. It is a great place to live. People want to plant their roots and with what’s happening with the pandemic, and people can work from home, why not find a place in a hometown you really want to be in?”