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Home Sales Booming In Southwestern Pennsylvania, Real Estate Service Finds

Jake Savitz
90.5 WESA
Southwestern Pennsylvania is experiencing a housing boom.

The Pittsburgh-area housing market is booming, according to new data from West Penn Multi-List, which collects real estate data from 17 counties in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Home buyers have purchased over $1.4 billion worth of property in the last year, or around 7,800 homes. That's an increase of nearly 10 percent.

The average home sale price is up nearly 9 percent to around $184,000. 

It's a seller's market, said West Penn Multi-List, and an ideal time to sell a house, with low interest rates and listings that often see multiple offers. 

"We have so many fairly inexpensive homes here," said George Hackett, president of West Penn Multi-List and president of Coldwell Banker Real Estate Services in Pittsburgh. "I mean you can buy homes here under $100,000 or under $150,000, where, in a lot of other cities, that's not available."

Demand overwhelms supply, according to Multi-List, and home listings are down by nearly 8 percent. 

But Hackett said it's not too late to list a home. Summer is a typically busy season for the real estate market, as buyers shake off holiday spending and the cold weather to become more enthusiastic about the prospect of buying a home. 

"It'll be an interesting summer," he said. "March wasn't as good as it normally would be because the weather wasn't great, and that slowed down the market. But it caught up in April and in May." 

There are many reasons why the home market is doing so well in the region, Hackett said, including Pittsburgh's low cost of living. There's good upward mobility, too, meaning home owners can move from a moderately-priced house to one in a higher price range with ease. And Pittsburgh residents find that they want to stay in the area for a long time.

"If you're living in one neighborhood and you want to move up, there's plenty of homes in every category that you can move up to so you're not really knocked out of any one category. There's a lot of homes here at all different prices," Hackett said. 

Those reasons are joined to more national trends, like the proclivity to own a home rather than rent, low interest rates, and a national market that's been fairly steady since 2010. 

As a result, lower-priced homes are selling better than higher-priced homes, and Hackett said there's no Pittsburgh neighborhood that falls behind in home sales. 

"They're all enjoying a very good year," he said. "But as you go out farther into Allegheny County, you have less sales because you don't have as many neighborhoods and as many people living there."

Hackett believes the number-one driver of escalated home sales is first-time buyers who are mostly of the millennial generation.

Pittsburgh consistently ranks among the top 10 in the U.S. for percentage of millennials who own homes, according to the Pittsburgh Business Times using U.S. Census data. Thirty-seven percent of millennials in Pittsburgh own a home. And the region is the ninth  best in the nation for first time buyers, lists

Millennial buyers in Pittsburgh are typically graduating from the region's many colleges, according to Hackett, or they are moving to the region to take advantage of its blossoming tech industry. The home prices here are low for tech workers, Hackett said, especially compared to other tech hubs like Silicon Valley in California. And millennials who were born in the Pittsburgh area tend to stay here for jobs and to raise families, according to Hackett's observations. 

Hackett says the housing boom could be further stimulated by people moving to Pittsburgh to work at Amazon, should the online retailer choose the area as the location of its second headquarters

But a strong housing market is not immune from criticism. As 90.5 WESA's Virginia Alvino-Young reported to NPR member station WNYC late last year, lower-income residents are being pushed out of their neighborhoods because of home buyers snatching up low-priced listings.  "Fancy new eateries and tall, shiny high rises are starting to pepper predominantly black neighborhoods like East Liberty," Alvino-Young reported, catering to the millennials-- many associated with Pittsburgh-based tech companies like Duolingo and Argo AI-- beginning to populate those areas.

Amazon's second headquarters, for which Pittsburgh is in the running, could greatly exacerbate those problems.

And, Hackett admits, there's no way of knowing how long this housing boom could last, pointing to the suddenness of the 2005 to 2009 downturn.

But for now, he advises all current homeowners to look into entering the market: "If you're considering selling, call your local real estate agent just to learn the value of your home, if nothing else."

Adelina Lancianese is the assistant producer for the NPR Story Lab, a creative studio that fosters newsroom experimentation and incubates new podcasts. At the Story Lab, Lancianese works primarily on investigative, long-form projects, and also helps organize the annual Story Lab Workshop for the development of new independent and Member station podcasts.