It’s not exactly a bustling metropolis, and many consider it a calm college town about a two-hour drive from Niagara Falls. But, the real estate market in Rochester, New York, has reached a competitive intensity that few would have expected of the upstate lakeside haven.
The city of a little over 200,000 lies in the northwest corner of New York state and most homes are listed below $300,000. In fact, the median home price in Rochester is about $147,000, but that median has increased by about 6 percent over the last year, as reported by local news station 13 WHAM. Similarly, inventory has steadily decreased over the last few years: In 2013 5,446 homes were for sale, but by 2019 that number dropped to 2,429.
The result is, as it is increasingly in other parts of the country, that homebuyers are finding themselves having to go to uncomfortable lengths to win a property — often a property that’s not even their first or second choice.
“In a word, [it’s] exhausting,” Sara Shimmel, a recent Rochester homebuyer, told Inman in an email.
“I knew it would be competitive because I’ve heard stories from many friends and colleagues about how difficult the market has gotten these last few years,” Shimmel said. “But what I didn’t prepare for was the pace. Homes were selling after being on the market for two or three days, so we constantly had to check our MLS matrix, and sites like Zillow because we knew if we didn’t see a house within the first day that it was listed, it would probably be too late.”
Not only are homebuyers having to operate at a rapid-fire pace, but they’re also having to go to extreme measures when making an offer, like routinely offering over asking price, waiving the home inspection, offering an unusually high good-faith deposit amount and choosing a closing date that best suits the sellers.
“We’ve seen offers well above asking, cash offers and borrowing money from family members so they can go cash,” Kelsey Delmotte, a real estate salesperson with Carriage House Realty by Nick, told Inman.
“I’ve been doing this for 42 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Tony Ruggeri, agent and broker at Coldwell Banker Custom Realty, told 13 WHAM.
In more high-demand areas, Delmotte said she’s seen upwards of 20 offers on a single property.
For Shimmel and her boyfriend Chris Bethmann, the process turned into a daily cycle of making instant evaluations about whether or not to place an offer and being ready to drop everything when a new house came to market that they might be interested in.
“Whatever after-work plans we had went down the drain, since we not only had to drive there to see the house immediately after we left work, but then make the decision if we wanted to put in an offer that evening,” Shimmel said.
“So even after we went home, we were texting our agent back and forth about how we wanted our offer to look, and then had to sign the offer electronically. Not only is it physically exhausting, but it’s also an emotional drain — you basically have to decide whether you liked the house, try to picture yourself in it, get excited about it, put together a competitive offer, and wait to hear. And then the next day when you find out you didn’t get it, you have to quickly move onto the next and complete that cycle all over again.”
Once Shimmel and Bethmann realized that they couldn’t submit a competitive offer without waiving the home inspection, they then had to take the extra measure of coordinating all showings with Bethmann’s father, who’s familiar with construction and home improvement, in order to have some sort of way to judge whether or not the house was structurally sound.
Although she can’t know for certain, Shimmel estimates that the most offers a home received that she and Bethmann also put an offer on was a home they were told received a total of nine offers. This was the fourth home that they put an offer on that was rejected. Their fifth offer was ultimately accepted.
“The biggest takeaway for me is how this market truly stripped us of what should have been a really happy, exciting time,” Shimmel said. “It should be exciting to buy your first house with your partner, knowing you’re hoping to build a family in it … It would have been lovely to have the luxury to think about it for a night, and then go back a day or two later for a second look (instead of having to spend $200,000 on something you were in for 25 minutes, before the next showing started walking in right behind you). Instead, it turned into an exhausting, competitive process in which we had to quickly make very calculated decisions.”
Delmotte advised homebuyers to try and be patient, despite the challenging market conditions.
“Plus a healthy dash of trust in your Realtor,” Delmotte added. “We love what we do and we’ve got your back. Be open and honest about what you’re looking for, and be open to seeing the opportunity in a home that may be the perfect [one] with a little love.”