SCHOOL IS IN

by Buz Wolfe

Each year, dozens and dozens of individuals and families relocate into the Greater Carlisle Area. Although many of these families are affiliated with the United States Army War College, just as many others are transferees who are newly employed due to the nice diversification of businesses, industries and institutions that support our strong local economy.

In many instances, folks actually select a school district before selecting a new home. Here in Southcentral Pennsylvania, we are blessed to have some of the best public schools among the 499 School Districts serving the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The Greater Carlisle Area Chamber of Commerce hosts an “Education Breakfast” each year at which the Superintendents of the four Carlisle Area Schools – – Big Spring School District, Carlisle Area School District, Cumberland Valley School District and South Middleton School District – – bring local business leaders up to date on happenings within the overall education sector as well as within their own School District. I was happy to attend that function again this year and will share some of those thoughts – – along with a few personal anecdotes.

The Big Spring School District, located in Newville, is our most rural school district. It serves the Municipalities of West Pennsboro Township, Borough of Newville, South Newton Township, North Newton Township, Lower Frankford, Upper Frankford, Cooke Township, Lower Mifflin Township, Upper Mifflin Township and Penn Township. It is the only area school district with a declining enrollment – – like approximately 2/3 of Pennsylvania’s total School Districts. With a $48 million budget and an enrollment of 2,560 students, the District largely faces an aging population and the relocation of fewer families than its peer School Districts. The Big Spring School District experiences a poverty level of approximately 44%. Despite all of these obstacles, Superintendent Dr. Richard Fry is quick to point out that the District boasts very good buildings and facilities and more than 19 Advanced Placement (AP) offerings. And, when it comes to PIAA wrestling, the Bulldogs are always a factor with which to be reckoned!

The Carlisle Area School District serves the Borough of Carlisle, Borough of Mount Holly Springs, Dickinson Township and North Middleton Townships. Carlisle sees a slightly increasing enrollment which currently stands at about 5,200 students. It tends to be the most transient of the four neighboring School Districts largely due to the existence of the United States Army War College. About 350 students per year are introduced into the Carlisle Area Schools because of the USAWC – – this representing an annual “in and out” figure of about 28%. The student body tends to be more diverse than the other area Districts and experiences about a 40% poverty level factor. Its $79 million annual budget is carefully managed – – as evidence by the continued on-going building improvements seen within the District. The Carlisle Thundering Herd has a renowned reputations in both athletics and music. Its boys basketball team won four consecutive State Championships in the 80’s and finds itself again this year competing in the State Tournament. John Friend is the latest in a long line of distinguished educators and administrators who have served as Superintendent of Schools.

The fact that Cumberland County is the fastest growing county in Pennsylvania is well evidenced by the Cumberland Valley School system. Serving a number of the “West Shore” municipalities – – Middlesex Township, Silver Spring Township, Hampden Township and Monroe Township, Cumberland Valley is the largest school district within the Greater Carlisle Area and is growing at a very rapid rate. An increase of 1,450 students is projected over the next ten years according to Superintendent Fred Withum. Their 9,000 student enrollment includes approximately 20% at poverty level, making it easily the most affluent District within our market area. The Cumberland Valley Eagles are no stranger to State Championships either – having secured several State High School Football Championships.

South Middleton Township is home to the South Middleton School District, headquartered in Boiling Springs. It is the only area District to serve one single municipality. According to Dr. Alan Moyer, current enrollment stands at approximately 2,200 student (25% poverty). The South Middleton School District is also home to many newer and upgraded buildings and facilities. The “Bubblers” are also recognized for having one of the finest high school wrestling programs in the Commonwealth.

As a homeowner in any of these Districts – – or a property owner, in general – – your property taxes are a key factor in supporting the financial operations, of each District. Total property taxes in Pennsylvania exceed $14 billion annually. While elected official continue to search for ways to replace real estate / property tax with other forms of revenue, school districts must continue to rely on this income as actual Federal dollars continue to dwindle while Federal mandates on our schools continue to increase. Your real estate taxes are based upon the assessed value of your home as established by Cumberland County in January of 2010. Later in this series, we will discuss the difference between Assessed Value and Appraised Value.

To sum it up, the Greater Carlisle Area is blessed with four excellent public school systems that boast outstanding programs, facilities and leadership. Each of the Districts have some of their own unique and special characteristics. Finding the one that best suits your children might just determine where your next house will be!

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ALL REAL ESTATE IS LOCAL

By Buz Wolfe

There is an old adage that says “All politics are local.” Well, in many ways, the same holds true for Real Estate. All Real Estate is local.

Each month, I hope to bring you some insight into local trends within the Real Estate market. In addition, I hope to have the opportunity to provide some explanation and dispel some misconceptions about Real Estate related items and issues. I frequently refer to the “local market” as the “micro-market”. The market to which I refer is that of the Greater Carlisle Area – – much the same footprint as The Cumberland Valley Business Journal itself. In many subtle and even not too subtle ways, the Carlisle market differs from the East Shore and West Shore markets as well as those of our nearby friends in York, Adams and Perry counties.

On the other hand, local real estate trends often mirror larger national trends and patterns. It has been my experience that, while we frequently follow national economic trends effecting real estate, those national trends are sometimes slower to reach our micro-market and, in turn, sometimes slower to disappear.

Historically, the Greater Carlisle Area Real Estate market has been a conservative one – – very much a reflection of the conservative mindset and lifestyle experienced throughout much of the region. Property values have historically appreciated in value at a rate mirroring inflation and cost of living averages. Typically, this has been somewhere in the 2%-5% range. During the height of the Real Estate Bubble (2003-2006), we did experience near double digit annual appreciation in property values. Conversely, we saw values begin to decline commencing in 2007 – – something which I had never witnessed before in our market area.

Property values, particularly residential property values, have pretty much now returned to 2005-2006 levels. In other words, if you have owned your home since the “pre-bubble” period, its value has returned. Although there are still a few instances where people who purchased at the very top of the market are not yet quite whole again – – we see very few folks who remain in an “under water” situation.

To this point, the National Association of Realtors has confirmed that 2016 was the best year for existing home sales since 2006. Previously, 2015 had been the best year in a decade and it was actually surpassed by 2016 results. This is precisely consistent with our own experience within our company.

So, what can we expect for 2017? Locally, as well as nationally, here will be some of the key points to watch:

• Existing home sales will continue to climb.
• Home values will continue to grow.
• Mortgage rates are likely to increase, but nominally.
• Overall home ownership rates will stabilize and/or increase.
• First time buyers will continue to increase and account for nearly 1/3 of home sales after renting or living at home for much of the past decade.

Nationally, a lack of inventory has become a problem. I am beginning to observe this on a local basis as well. A shorter supply of inventory typically manifests itself into more of a seller’s market – where we see less price negotiation and shorter days on market periods. We are seeing both.

Locally, the residential market for well-kept properties under $300,000 remains extremely strong. While homes in the $300,000-$400,000 range seem to be less in demand, there is also definitely a small and available pool of prospective buyers of even higher ends homes.

Unless this lack of inventory restricts sales, expect calendar year 2017 to be on par with the very strong years of 2015 and 2016. It just may be that the “good old days” are now.

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2016 IN THE REAR VIEW

by Buz Wolfe

Before we take a look at our 2016 business year, please allow me to extend my best wishes for a Happy New Year! I truly wish all of our clients, customers and associates a 2017 blessed with much health and happiness.

Calendar year 2016 was another successful and profitable year for Wolfe & Company Realtors. We celebrated our 30th Anniversary and opened our new appraisal division. Our settled transactions were on a par with 2015 – – which was the best year we had enjoyed since back in 2006.

On a personal level, I settled $10,000,000 in real estate transactions. This again made me the top producing Broker within the Greater Carlisle Area and placed me within the top 3% of all agents conducting business within the footprint of the Greater Harrisburg Association of Realtors. My average settled transaction price of $339,152 was tops among all area Brokers and Salespersons.

Wolfe & Company office production again placed us a very solid 4th among all of the real estate companies doing business within the Greater Carlisle Area. While operating with less than half of the residential agents found in the top 3 area offices, our $35,342,000 worth of closed transactions actually placed us within the top 15% of the 217 offices doing business in the entire Greater Harrisburg Area.

Mitch Gelbaugh, Erin Wolfe, Eric Shryock, Harry Snyder, and Tracy Sharp all continued to be among the top producers in the market place. Although Wolfe & Company Realtors does not use the “Team” approach in our business, their collective total of over $21,000,000 in settled transactions is impressive by any measure.

As we begin our 31st year of service to the Greater Carlisle Area and beyond, we have both great pride in our history and great optimism toward our future. We fully expect 2017 to be another banner year for Wolfe & Company Realtors. We look forward to serving you like no one else can! #NOFEESNOTEAMSNONONSENSE.

*Ray L. “Buz” Wolfe, CRS has been Broker/Owner of his own firm since 1986. In 2016, he was again the Carlisle Area’s Top Producing Broker.
*All information believed to be accurate but not guaranteed.
*All information obtained from Bright Multiple Listing Service/Greater Harrisburg Association of Realtors sources.
*Agent totals exclude those licensees known to focus on commercial or appraisal activity.
*Production numbers do not include transactions known to be outside the Greater Harrisburg Association of Realtors / Bright Multiple Listing Service footprint.

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HOMEOWNERS HOME VALUE EXPECTATIONS GROWING CLOSE TO APPRAISERS

by Buz Wolfe

Last month, I talked about appraisers and appraisals. In this blog, I will touch briefly on the “perception difference” between appraisers and property owners as well as some DO’S and DON’TS when preparing your house for its sale and appraisal.

According to the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors, the average appraisal last month was only 1.15% lower than the expectation of the homeowner – – or, in many cases, the sale price established in the pending sale contract. PAR indicates that this is the fourth consecutive month where the gap between the appraisal and the expectation has decreased.

Home values across the Commonwealth have increased nearly 6% since October of 2015, although the fall and winter market will likely show a miniscule drop in prices. When the market recovers from a downturn and prices begin to rise, it takes some period of time for “comparable sales” to establish themselves so that the appraiser has data to support what may actually be going on in the marketplace.

Many houses require a little bit of work before hitting the market or some additional work will be required after the home inspection or appraisal process. We are frequently asked by our clients which repairs or improvements will actually help them achieve their sales goal or which should be left to the buyer. According to the Council of Residential Specialists (CRS), to which I belong, these are items that the seller should consider fixing:

• Simple and inexpensive fixes such as poorly hanging doors, condensation leaks, broken cabinets, plumbing leaks, landscaping, painting, etc.
• Electrical issues
• Items presenting a clear safety risk or issues such as broken steps, missing handrails or buried or abandoned oil tanks.

Items best left for the buyer to fix include:

• Cosmetic items which might appeal to a specific taste
• Energy enhancements
• Major appliances

Our Associate Brokers and salespersons are experienced and in an excellent position to give you advice about how to prepare your home for the market and how to establish a value consistent with that which is likely to be identified by your appraiser.

Remember, EXPERIENCE MATTERS! Please accept my sincere wishes for a Merry Christmas and I look forward to working with you in 2017.

*Ray L. “Buz” Wolfe, CRS has been Broker/Owner of his own firm since 1986. In 2016, he is again the Carlisle Area’s Top Producing Independent Broker. **All information believed to be accurate but not guaranteed.

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NOW IS THE TIME TO BUY (Honestly!)

I have recently read several industry related articles indicating that the next several months are the best time for a Buyer to purchase a new home. After giving it some thought, it makes perfect sense.

Most everyone assumes that the Spring-Summer period is the best time for residential real estate. More Sellers put their property on the market during that time, for sure. This increased inventory attracts more Buyers – – many of whom end up competing for the same property. This, in turn, actually drives prices up and forces Buyers to perhaps pay more for the property that they wish to purchase.

Properties available during the fall and winter months often represent a better bargain. These “left-over” properties may be owned by Sellers who are tired of the process and ready to see a SOLD sign in their yard. This may very well mean getting a better price for the property.

According to the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors, homes selling in the autumn period average about 3% less than those sold during the summer months. Homes sold in January and February average a whopping 8.45% less on average! So if you have decided to “wait for spring”, you may want to rethink your decision.

Keep in mind, though, that seasons don’t impact listing prices. Again, according to PAR, sellers simply have a seasonal advantage in the summer while Buyers tend to have more of an advantage in the winter.

If you need assistance in finding a new home, contact the EXPERIENCED professionals at Wolfe & Company Realtors. We are among the only real estate companies in the Mid-State that do not charge our Buyer clients a fee! NO FEES! NO TEAMS! NO NONSENSE!

EXPERIENCE MATTERS!

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WHAT IS AN APPRAISER?

APPRAISER. This is probable the most misused, misunderstood and abused term in the real estate world. So, let’s set the record straight.

I have mentioned many times before that there are two types of Real Estate Licensees in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – – Licensed Salesperson and Licensed Broker. Licensed sales persons cannot perform appraisals and only a small handful of Brokers are permitted to do appraisals on a limited scope. Remember, too, that the term “Realtor” deals with the trade organization that advocates for Real Estate Licensees and has nothing whatsoever to do with one’s license status.

Appraisers also come in two types. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania recognizes Certified Residential Appraisers and Certified General Appraisers. Certified Residential Appraisers are limited to appraising one to four unit residential properties. Certified General Appraisers, on the other hand, are qualified to appraise all property types and primarily specialize in commercial and industrial appraisals and analysis.

The process of becoming a Certified Appraiser in Pennsylvania, particularly a Certified General Appraiser, is quite difficult. Certified General Appraisers must first be licensed as a trainee, then perform over 3,000 apprentice hours under an already Certified General Appraiser and complete 300 hours of education and tests in a variety of difficult subject matter. They then must pass a 6 hour State Exam.

Very few licensed real estate sales persons /brokers are appraisers. Most appraisers, however, are licensed as salespersons and/or brokers. While licensed salespersons/brokers may perform a “Competitive Market Analysis” for the potential purpose of securing a listing, they are not licensed nor qualified to provide third party independent appraisals for a fee.

Finally, let’s remember that there is a difference between ASSESSED VALUE and APPRAISED VALUE. Your property is “assessed” by the County in which you live for purposes of real estate taxes. Your current Assessed Value is supposed to represent “Fair Market Value”, but many Counties have not had a county wide reassessment for a very long time. Here in Cumberland County, your Assessed Value is supposed to represent Fair Market Value as of January 2010 and our Assessed values are fairly close. With over 95,000 taxable parcels in Cumberland County, we find that about 1/3 are under assessed, about 1/3 are over assessed and about 1/3 are fairly accurate. Nevertheless, the Assessed Value is used by the taxing authorities (county, municipality and school) to determine the amount of rea l estate taxes that you will pay.

Wolfe & Company Realtors is very pleased to have a newly formed Appraisal Division headed by Andrew R. Wolfe. Andy is a Certified General Appraiser and Licensed Salesperson as well. Andy looks forward to providing a high level of Real Estate appraisal valuation and consulting services to institutions and individuals in need of such services. Andy may be reached at 717-448-0389 or awolfe@wolfecr.com.

EXPERIENCE MATTERS!

*Ray L. “Buz” Wolfe, CRS has been Broker/Owner of his own firm since 1986. In 2015, he was again the Carlisle Area’s Top Producing Independent Broker.
**All information believed to be accurate but not guaranteed.

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INTERESTING FACTOIDS!

by Buz Wolfe

A number of years ago, I earned an industry designation called CRS (Certified Residential Specialist). At the time, only between 2-4% of all licensed real estate practitioners in the Country held the designation. I believe that that percentage is now in the 10-12% range, but this group still generally represents among the most successful residential Brokers and agents in the business.

The Council publishes a monthly magazine which I always read. While I am not a big statistics guy, the following are some statistical factoids that you might find interesting:

• Traditional 2 story homes are spending about 84 Days on Market.
• Ranch homes are spending about 95 Days on Market.
• Homes near schools spend 76 Days on the Market.
• Hottest size was a modest 1500-2000 square feet.
• Fastest selling price point is the “not quite starter price” of $200,000-$250,000
• Stainless steel, granite counter tops, and open kitchens tend to sell homes more quickly.
• First time buyers are now making up roughly 1/3 of the housing market.
• 81% of them prefer an updated kitchen and bath.
• Median age of a first time buyer is 31 while the median age of a repeat buyer is 53.
• 80% of all real estate deals are conditioned on a home inspection.
• For every $1,000 of perceived defect, the buyer will seek a $3,000-$5,000 reduction in price!

Keep in mind that these are national statistics, but they very closely mirror our local “micro market” here in Carlisle. Pennsylvania, by the way, is 5th for the number of owner occupied units by state – – trailing California, Texas, Florida and New York according to the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors. These home owners experience significant housing wealth from their owner occupied properties.

Have real estate questions? Feel free to contact me or any of the very capable members of our staff here at Wolfe & Company Realtors. EXPERIENCE MATTERS!

*Ray L. “Buz” Wolfe, CRS has been Broker/Owner of his own firm since 1986. In 2015, he was again the Carlisle Area’s Top Producing Independent Broker.
**All information believed to be accurate but not guaranteed.

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TIME TO UPDATE!

by Buz Wolfe

One thing has become absolutely clear to me these past few years as we recover from the “post-bubble” downturn. Houses that are outdated or have not been kept updated are simply tough to sell.

Irrespective of curb appeal, location, neighborhood and even price – – homes that are perceived by the Buyers to need “too much work” simply experience more days on market than their competitors. Even with inventory levels declining and more buyers being available to purchase homes, these outdated properties tend to sit for long periods of time. As a reluctant homeowner myself, I have finally acknowledged this fact of life and agreed with my wife that it is it time to update our 1990 home.

Over the past year or so, we have replaced all of the old vinyl flooring in our kitchen and baths with ceramic tile. We redid our master bedroom shower with a beautiful ceramic tile shower and redid all of the countertops in our bathrooms. At this very moment, we are replacing our perfectly acceptable formica kitchen counters with granite countertops and ceramic tile backsplash. It is inconvenient and expensive, but I have come to realize that we simply must make these upgrades.

Outside, we have been doing little things like freshening up our landscaping, power washing our siding, re-staining our deck, painting our patio and replacing some exterior light fixtures. We have re-mortared and repaired our brick sidewalks. We hope to put our own house on the market within the next year or two and understand that we simply must make these improvements if we hope to be successful.

It’s really easy to live in a house for twenty or thirty years and fail to “keep up with the times”. Guilty for sure on my part despite the constant pleas from my wife. And, I believe that it is much easier and more practical to do it over the course of several months or a few years rather than try to “hurry up” when you are ready to sell your house. Besides, I would like to get at least a little bit of enjoyment out of these upgrades before I pass them on to the next happy homeowner.

The staff at Wolfe & Company Realtors is very good at distinguishing Cost vs. Value. They are not the same! If you would like us to provide you with opinions on what you can do to make your home more marketable, please feel free to get in touch. As we continue to celebrate our 30th Anniversary, another thing is abundantly clear – – EXPERIENCE MATTERS!

*Ray L. “Buz” Wolfe, CRS has been Broker/Owner of his own firm since 1986. In 2015, he was again the Carlisle Area’s Top Producing Independent Broker.
**All information believed to be accurate but not guaranteed.

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Nice House

FIRST TIME BUYERS ARE BUYING!

by Buz Wolfe

If you have followed my blogs over the past several years, you know that I have frequently pointed out the lack of activity from entry level or first time buyers. In essence, I have attributed this to three factors.

First, many of these younger buyers are loaded with student debt. Second, many are under employed or not working in the field for which they trained or studied. Finally, many of them just fail to see the value in home ownership – – having paid attention to the economic downturn and housing crisis the 2008-2012 period.

Well, according to the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors (PAR) and the Council of Residential Specialists (CRS), young buyers are growing increasingly tired of renting and are indeed beginning to see the value of home ownership. Buyers in the 18-34 age range, frequently known as “Millennials” or “Generation Y”, have discovered owning a home helps build wealth and are now becoming the largest chunk of home buyers in the marketplace. At approximately 35%, they edge out “Generation X” (26%), the “Baby Boomers” (31%) and the “Silent Generation” (9%).

Inasmuch as the residential real estate marketplace is very much a “trade up” phenomena, it is critical to have entry level buyers absorb first homes or starter homes so that those sellers might move on to larger and more expensive homes. This will then facilitate the ability of the sellers of the larger and more expensive homes to downsize – as is increasingly common among the over 55 market.

Millennials are known to be tech savvy and “do it yourselfers”. While most start their home searches on line, it should be noted that, nationally, 90% of Millennials used an experienced real estate professional to complete their purchase. They indicated that the complexity of financing and closing issues were stressful and that the real estate professional was invaluable in helping them navigate the process and close on their new home.

Finally, studies show a reversal trend among young buyers. They are increasingly moving away from city centers and urban areas and looking for homes in the suburbs and small towns. Certainly, this bodes well for the Greater Carlisle Area real estate market as well.

So, the good news is that first time buyers are buying again! And all studies indicate that they are relying on the expertise available from knowledgeable real estate practitioners. EXPERIENCE MATTERS!

*Ray L. “Buz” Wolfe, CRS has been Broker/Owner of his own firm since 1986. In 2015, he was again the Carlisle Area’s Top Producing Independent Broker.
**All information believed to be accurate but not guaranteed.

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THE MARKET IS HOT!

by Buz Wolfe

The market is hot! I mean HOT! Honestly, it is the most active local real estate market that I have observed in more than ten years.

Still, there are Sellers who have difficulty finding a Buyer for their property. In a market like this, the only reasons for this are self- inflicted. The top reasons that Sellers are unable to sell their home are the following:

1. Over pricing the home.
2. Overlooking repairs.
3. Failing to declutter and depersonalize the home.
4. Expectations which are too high and a patience level which is too low.

We know that upwards of 98% of Buyers get on-line before ever contacting a Real Estate Broker. According to the Council of Residential Specialists (CRS), to which I belong, the twenty top ranked Real Estate websites cumulatively welcomed 176 million unique website visitors in the month of June last year. The top three sites, Zillow.com, Realtor.com and Trulia.com, shared a combined 68.21% of these visits.

Today’s Buyers are savvy and sophisticated. They will quickly make their own determination if your house is overpriced, if your house is in dire need of updates or if it has other issues about which they are unwilling to overlook. Trust me on this – – today’s Buyers expect a great deal, a perfect home and the need to do virtually no maintenance after acquiring it.

Having said all of that, the market is still good to Sellers. Nationally, homes sold for 98% of asking price in 2014. Locally, this List to Sell Price Ratio consistently exceeds 95% here in our own micro-market.

As the Carlisle Area’s Top Listing Broker, I am uniquely positioned to price your property properly and give you good counsel as to how to make it marketable and desirable to prospective Buyers. With over $130 million in settled transactions since 1982, you can be certain of one thing – – EXPERIENCE MATTERS!

*Ray L. “Buz” Wolfe, CRS has been Broker/Owner of his own firm since 1986. In 2015, he was again the Carlisle Area’s Top Producing Independent Broker.
**All information believed to be accurate but not guaranteed.

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