Demand for housing continues to climb across coveted Port Huron region

The community will begin seeing more new homes as building projects come to fruition.
A home in the Blue Water region has become a hot commodity as many people are looking to buy in the county, but the number of homes on the market has been limited.

Low inventory, high demand for homes
Realtors in the area and nationwide have seen a trend of low inventory and a high demand; it is very obviously a seller’s market right now.

Nicole Williams saw that first-hand as she looked to buy a Port Huron home with her husband. Watching houses get scooped up the day they were put up for sale for above asking price, the Williams family had to put in four offers before finally closing in July.

“I’m happy with our house now, but the process to find it was ridiculous,” Williams says.

The low inventory, too, makes it a gamble for sellers to put their homes up for sale, at the risk of not having a place to live if it sells too fast. With no inventory, the county’s percentage of houses sold in 2017 was 2,368 units, down 3.9 percent from the previous year, according to Realcomp II Ltd. data. Francine Green, marketing manager for the company, says that includes closed sales of residential and condominiums combined by Realtors who take part in the multiple listings service.

Sale prices continue to climb
Median sale price for housing, in turn, has steadily gone up. In 2013, median price was $96, 525, but it was $140,000 in 2017, a 5.3 percent jump from 2016.

The solution is more residential development, which has been on the rise for the past three years as far as county building permits, says Dan Casey, chief executive officer of St. Clair County’s Economic Development Alliance.

Number of new homes will keep growing
Casey says the county's main communities received 256 new single family home and apartment permits in 2017, with a total construction value of close to $40 million. Of those, 107 were apartments and 24 condominiums. Kimball Township saw the most, partly because it didn’t have to start from scratch with construction, as many existing subdivisions had space with roads, sewer lines, and water lines already in place.

“I think what you’re seeing (is) in places where there were existing subdivisions that were not completely built out, the easiest thing would be to go and build the remaining lots,” Casey explains, noting similar situations in development hotspots St. Clair Township and Fort Gratiot Township.

The county’s new housing will continue to increase over the next few years. The 256 permits only include developments ready to begin construction, not plans that are in the works. In Marysville alone, where Boddy Construction Co., Inc. has purchased land at Ravenswood and Range Road, at least 150 homes are projected to be built over the next five years. Duke Dunn, county commissioner and superintendent at Boddy, says the first set of drawings from engineers arrive next week, and from there the plan is to have houses up in July or August. They expect to build about 25 in 2018.

Within the subdivision, Dunn says, there will be a variety of homes, anything from 1,500 to 2,200 square feet, with smaller homes near the front and potential for even larger units branched out in the back. There could eventually be a condominium association, possibly gated, on the north end of the property. The two-unit condominiums would be 1,500 square feet with two-car garages.

According to Dunn, Marysville turned down a bid for a 400-unit apartment in 2016, aiming for community and family-based fixed housing instead.

However, building houses for the increasing demand isn’t as easy as it seems. Many Blue Water communities simply do not have land for new developments and are already “built out”, which the city’s planning director, David Haynes, says leads to Port Huron’s situation.

Alternative options selling out fast, too
Casey’s 2017 numbers don’t factor in lofts, which The Keel has already touched on in Port Huron. A stark contrast to Marysville, Port Huron’s less permanent residences have been focused on heavily. Along with the lofts, which are rented almost as soon as they are listed, the city saw six new family home permits and 28 for condominiums in 2017.

Last year, Casey says Port Huron completed a housing study that showed the importance of ‘missing middle’ type living in lofts, apartments, condominiums, and multi-use buildings with businesses on the bottom and living spaces atop. The missing middle includes transitional housing for people like millennials who have their first job and student debt, who can pay rent but not yet buy their first home, and seniors who are looking to live simpler lives. This also factors in with the national trend of downtown living.

Buyers want family homes
As for the new fixed housing the city has seen, Haynes says there is more interest in mid-to-high level housing, between $150,000 to $300,000, than in years past. He said a speculative home on Wright Street north of the Blue Water Bridge yielded four potential buyers, which led to a home being built behind it that was sold “before a shovel was put into the ground.” Demand is up in Port Huron, just like its neighbors.

Realcomp II Ltd. data confirms that residential closed sales in Port Huron, not including condominiums, went up 7.9 percent last year, totaling 408 in December.

In 2018, there will be at least 28 new units up for grabs in Port Huron in a mid-rise tower as plans for the Bluewater View Condominiums commence, says Haynes. Another phase will come after that, which could be 10 or 12 stories. They fit in to the downtown lifestyle and solve lack of space, though Haynes says they will be luxury-style instead of less expensive houses or rentals.

President of the Eastern Thumb Association of Realtors Ed Quain sells primarily to residents, but has some work in developments too. Last year, the associate broker at O’Connor Realty in Marysville sold seven new constructions.

Quain has seen a vast array of hopeful homeowners. There have been more young families and people who are “moving on up,” going from mid-range homes to something larger, at open houses.

Casey says there is an increase in homeowners looking for single family, ranch style type homes between 1,700 and 2,000 square feet.
County offers housing options for all

The variety of developments in the Blue Water Region will see residents through a timeline, in all phases of life. A student can move into a Port Huron loft, then begin a family in a cozy home in Marysville, for instance.

The economy in general has been picking up, and the Port Huron Region is a shining example of that in its businesses. When times were tough, it didn’t make sense to build what couldn’t be sold, and existing homes were much more feasible.

“Today, what we see is home values in the existing market have increased to the point that it now makes sense economically for investors to build new homes and sell them,” Casey says. The EDA has been preparing for more residents by identifying potential sites and meeting with investment groups and building contractors to look at the spaces.

Overall growth driving desire for homes
Casey and Quain both explain the demand for housing has been “pent up,” causing the rise in quick sales and new homes now.

“I have been in real estate my entire life, I grew up in real estate, and my father had six real estate offices. This is probably the best market I have seen in all my years of real estate,” Haynes says.

Economic growth as a result of new residents is sure to follow. Quain says a win for any one of the Blue Water communities is a win for them all.

“I drove through the Port Huron lighting and thought it looks so nice. The stores are filling up, they’re building lofts above, the bus station is new, you’re still seeing new restaurants coming, and it’s reassuring to everybody,” he says. “We’re all supporting each other and working together, and as you continue to see these updates and improvements, it helps support the whole package deal.”

The Blue Water Region is a coveted area to live, and with all of its upcoming projects, there will be housing and lifestyle options for every type of resident. While ranch style, single family homes are in demand countywide, the community is working together to offer properties across the spectrum.

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