Pam Kotz and her husband lived in the north end of Harrisburg on N. 2nd Street for 30 years.
They raised their kids in the Riverside neighborhood, thinking of it as more of a small town than a large city. They had great neighbors. They got involved in the neighborhood watch. There was a Halloween parade. Pam even delivered the neighborhood newsletter.
When they decided to put that house on the market in 2011, it was at the end of the Great Recession. Pam said it was “timed really poorly,” and the home didn’t sell until 2015.
The couple moved out of the city to Susquehanna Township, thinking they would enjoy the change of pace. Instead, they found the suburbs were more hectic and congested, making their way of living more stressful.
“We lived across from people for three years, and we never met,” Pam said.
So, the Kotzes decided to move again. But this time, they found a very different housing market from the one they left. They saw a house on the 500-block of Antoine Street online on a Tuesday night and contacted their realtor Wendell Hoover. They saw the house near Italian Lake on Wednesday morning and quickly put in an offer.
“I’m telling you what, we’re very fortunate,” Pam said of their new home. “I know things are improving even that much more.”
The Kotzes’ story isn’t unique. Hoover, with Iron Valley Real Estate of Central PA, has lived in the city for 20 years and worked as a realtor for 10. He’s noticed a record low number of houses for sale in the city.
Hoover’s data clearly shows the improvement in the city’s housing market. Last year boasted the second-best sales volume for the city in a decade (since 2009) at $43,345,219, with the greatest number of units sold at 539. It also ranked best for cumulative days on the market, with a low of 130.
Compare that to 2011, when the Kotzes first tried to sell their home. Only 269 units sold that year with a sold volume of $19,637,255. Cumulative days on the market were 180.
Ray Davis, a realtor with Howard Hanna, echoes Hoover’s optimism. Davis moved to Harrisburg in 1986 and began in real estate in 1992.
“It’s been very strong,” Davis said of the city real estate market.
He credits the growth to new developments from Midtown Cinema to restaurant row, which are causing people to stay. Davis said that fewer homes were on the market in 2018 because people were happy and staying in the city, leading to a lower inventory.
The increase in home ownership has led to another development. With the market improving, Davis said that buyers are expecting more for their money. Many buyers are looking for the extremes—either a move-in-ready home or a fixer-upper that needs to be gutted.
Kate Hummel and her husband Eric fell into one of those extremes. They worked with Hoover to sell their Camp Hill townhouse and move to the Midtown area. But they had some specific requirements: a single-family home, off-street parking and a house that was move-in ready.
In August, they attempted to buy a home but weren’t fast enough. They waited until they found another one that matched their dream on the 1900-block of N. 3rd Street.
“As soon as Eric saw that this house was on the market, we knew we had to move quickly,” Kate said. “Everything went very, very quickly.”
The Midtown neighborhood has been particularly active. Hoover’s statistics show that 161 homes with the Midtown postal code of 17102 sold in 2017 and 135 in 2018. The sales volume was $18,498,076 and $16,361,454, respectively. In 2011, only 69 homes sold with a sales volume of $7,007,595.
The growth trend doesn’t only apply to homes. Justin Heinly moved to Harrisburg almost 10 years ago. When he first moved to the city, he bought a five-unit property and lived in it while he renovated it.
An engineer with a real estate license, he’s had his hand in renovating apartment buildings and a few single-family homes in the Midtown area from Maclay down to Verbeke Street. In the last three to four years, Heinly has noticed millennials waiting to buy homes, instead looking for high-quality apartments.
“If a multi-unit is put on the market at a reasonable price, it will go very quickly in today’s market,” he explained. “The only ones that will really sit on the market is if they are under-renovated and poorly priced.”
Heinly said he’s had numerous clients waiting for a multi-unit property to go on sale so they can buy it, renovate it and increase their investment. In a market where the demand is high, even the structures themselves have value.
“There have been multiple properties that I’ve purchased recently where they were structurally unstable,” Heinly explained. “There’s actually enough value in those properties that people can rehabilitate them and make them an income-producing asset. That’s probably the best thing to happen to Harrisburg in a long time.”
Hit Their Stride
The Hummels moved to Midtown because they found they were always going into the city, whether it was to go out to eat, meet up with friends or see a show. They wanted a home where it was convenient to walk to the places they enjoyed.
The couple reflects one of the reasons that Davis thinks the city is so popular for the younger generation.
“Generally, you get a younger clientele who want to be able to walk to work, the Capitol,” he said.
Some move away as they get older and start families, bringing in a new younger generation. Others stay or move back once they have an empty nest.
In their little cottage on Antoine Street, the Kotzes are hitting their stride again. Although they don’t have young kids that could participate in a neighborhood Halloween parade, they do have a two-sided yard where Pam will plant her cherry tomatoes.
“I’m surprised, and much chagrined, that I have found that, all these years I wanted to move out of the city, and actually I’m more of an in-town person,” she said. “It’s not because what I wanted was different; it’s what I found.”
In Harrisburg city, both the number of housing units sold and the total sales volume have jumped over the past seven years.
Year Units Sold Sold Volume
2018 539 $43,345,219
2017 522 $41,048,419
2016 438 $31,905,925
2015 401 $30,635,171
2014 382 $26,007,112
2013 313 $19,303,048
2012 264 $17,280,854
2011 269 $19,637,255
2010 354 $27,004,839
Source: Bright MLS