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What Goes On In Real Estate And Chester County

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Yes, The Local Real Estate Market Is Still Going Strong

Written by Cindy Walker
Monday, September 27 2021 8:00
Published in the County Lines Magazine October 2021 issue

Who knew 2021 could get even better?

Restaurants, the hospitality sector and many services were slammed last year with lockdowns, social distancing and staying at home ruling the days for most of us. Yet many realtors reported being in overdrive with a booming local market.

Although things do slow down during August vacations and September school-prep, the fall real estate season generally shifts into a new gear later in the year. We wanted to check in to see if the record-setting level of activity was sustainable.

A Busy Summer

After the constraints of 2020, buyers, sellers and their agents learned how to do business under new conditions—no big open houses, all masked visits, remote document signing. The real estate business found a way forward.

“By 2021, there was another year’s worth of pent-up demand,” says Amy McKenna, of Country Properties, Berkshire Hathaway. “Those buyers who waited to see what would happen in 2020 joined the search for a new home to meet their expanding lifestyle and work needs. And with a refocus on home and hearth, the pool of buyers got even bigger, adding to the demand.” In short, more people wanted to move.

Add to that, continued low interest rates and ongoing interest in the Brandywine Valley as a place to live—with low taxes and high quality of life.

Holly Gross Group

“To our surprise, 2021 has been an even stronger year for home sales in our area,” says Holly Gross, of the Holly Gross Group. “We were very fortunate to have such a good year in 2020, so it’s gratifying that 2021 is exceeding our expectations. We’re continuing to see interest from outside our immediate area—from New York state as well as New York City. This has made even higher-end properties attractive, including raw acreage.”

While most of Chester County is desirable, West Chester, Downingtown and Unionville have been particularly active. “One of our recent listings in West Chester had 15 showings on its first day on the market,” says Stephen Gross, of the Holly Gross Group. “There were multiple offers and the sales price set a record in the Borough of $2 million!”

“There’s another side to those multiple offers, though,” says Missy Schwartz of Berkshire Hathaway. For every happy new homeowner, there may be 14 unhappy potential buyers who didn’t get that dream house, along with their 14 busy agents who wrote up 14 offers that were not accepted.

“Some folks forget there are two sides to the sales transaction. Buyers’ agents are very busy writing up multiple offers for their clients. I’ve had buyers who’ve made 8 or 9 unsuccessful offers. That’s heartbreaking … for everyone,” says Debra Sparre of RE/MAX Direct. Searching for the right home and closing the deal take plenty of patience and energy all around.

Some believe that rationality is beginning to temper an overheated market. “Recently, we’re seeing less overbidding, fewer inspections waived, fewer all-cash offers. More buyers are thinking about the value of their new lifestyle,” says McKenna. “For example, if you’re buying a farm, it’s not an impulse purchase. You’re buying a lifestyle, and you need to find the right farm.”

Educating the Buyers … and Sellers

Realtors are busy educating their clients on the realities of today’s changing market. “Unlike earlier in the real estate market, buyers shouldn’t make a low offer and expect to negotiate upward from there,” says Sparre. “Conditions are very different now, and buyers need to understand that. Too many properties sell for over the asking price for buyers to bid low and expect to be in the running.”

More buyers are doing preliminary searches online, so agents spend less time driving them to tour a wide variety of properties to get a sense of the market. “The process is more streamlined now,” says Schwartz. “Buyers need to be pre-qualified for financing to act quickly. And if there are aspects of the property they need to know about—like being close to a busy road—they need to think about that before visiting,” says Schwartz. Reviewing videos of home tours online also helps buyers triage their house hunting.

“Sellers also need to understand the new market realities,” says Stewart Gross, of Holly Gross Group. “Knowing that it’s a seller’s markets makes some want to price their homes above a fair market value. When that happens, the property may get limited interest.”

Several realtors shared the seemingly paradoxical experience that when a house is priced competitively it will more likely be bid up by multiple offers, often substantially above asking price. Meanwhile, even in a sellers’ market, a similar property priced too high won’t get a nibble. Apparently buyers don’t want to feel taken advantage of. “The fundamentals still apply: the higher the price, the fewer qualified buyers,” says Sparre.

And knowing the realities of the market—not just what a home in the neighborhood sold for—is part of the value added by an experienced realtor to ultimately get a better price for the property. “Helping those who have been planning to retire for years get their property ready to sell is what full-service realtors do,” says Stephen Gross.

Prep for Sellers

Beyond realistic pricing, sellers must also prepare their properties, even in these days of low inventory. “Declutter, purge, paint,” says Karen Nader of Brandywine Fine Properties. “Decluttering is prepping for moving, which sellers need to do anyway. Decide if it’s DIY, hire a service, or rent a POD for temporary storage.”

Painting is also recommended if the owners haven’t repainted recently. “New paint makes everything look fresh and new—even in historic homes,” says Nader. That bright orange bathroom or dusky earth colors will have narrower appeal than a neutral Chantilly Lace white paint job that opens and brightens the interior space.

Staging is the next issue for sellers, again with a range of options. Experienced agents can help owners arrange their pared-down belongings to create appealing rooms. Renting a few pieces to elevate the look of a room or suggest a home office space also works. (Home offices are still among the most desirable amenities.)

“We’ve used virtual staging to help buyers envision the space to their tastes, like redoing an outdated kitchen. Sotheby’s Curate app allows us to quickly transform a room using a variety of interior design styles—traditional, contemporary, farmhouse—right from photos from a phone,” says Nader. “One buyer looking for a modern chef’s kitchen sees one version, while another looking for a farmhouse feel can see a different staging.”

For those of us with limited imagination, virtual staging is extremely helpful. Buyers can appreciate what a vacant house looks like furnished. Virtual images do need to be identified, so buyers aren’t surprised when they visit a home in real life!

What’s a Buyer to Do?

Beyond being willing to pay top dollar for a home—and some buyers use escalation clauses to top competing offers—how can buyers make their offers attractive?

“Figure out what else the seller wants, in addition to price,” says Sparre. “Some sellers appreciate the option to stay in the home after closing to move out at a more comfortable pace.” Other sellers need time to find their next home in this busy market.

Buyers may offer to pay more of the closing costs or repairs needed after an inspection, says Schwartz. If the sellers didn’t do a pre-sale inspection, they may be sadly surprised to learn of unanticipated costs decreasing their profit.

And so-called “buyers’ love letters” are falling out of fashion as a way to get offers accepted. Some buyers would attempt to make their offer more attractive by explaining their love for the property and how much their family would like to live in this special home. Increasingly sellers’ agents make clear they won’t accept these letters, which can raise fair housing concerns.

While more buyers are searching for their best life in a new home, the bottom line for sellers is that it’s essentially a financial decision.

But there is hope for buyers. A recent report from a senior economist with said the market in Philadelphia is migrating toward normalization. Perhaps a bit of that will flow out our way.

We’ll have to wait and see.

80-acre Kennett Square estate with vineyard, equestrian facilities lists for $6.875M

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A bucolic 80-acre estate with its own vineyard in Kennett Square is on the market for $6.875 million.  

The home at 380 Upland Road spans more than 10,000 square feet, with 7,500 square feet in the main house and 2,800 square feet in the finished basement. It has seven bedrooms, five full bathrooms and four half baths.

Designed by West Chester-based Archer & Buchanan Architecture, the home was built in 2006 and conveys a classical design. Owners Michael Bailkin and his wife Billie replaced a previous house on the property to make a custom home of their own.

Known as Fox Hill Farm, the property comes with large equestrian facilities, including an indoor riding circle, a cross-country course and a 16-stall barn. Chester County and the Brandywine Valley have a history steeped in equestrian activities, and the property could draw a buyer who is looking to improve at riding or are already riding at a high level.

The outdoor space also has a 2-acre pond, a pool and tennis court. The property's “small” vineyard, which Michael Bailkin will miss the most, produces about 2,000 bottles a year of Gruner Veltliner, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Bordeaux Blanc varieties.

Inside the home, you can find a wine cellar, movie theater and a kitchen that can accommodate professional chefs and caterers. The house is ideal for people looking to host large events, said Michael, a real estate attorney in the New York office of law firm Akerman.

The Bailkins imported 200-year-old wooden floors from a French chateau, and installed them in the music room, living and dining rooms. The foyer features Italian marble from a former English manor.

The owners are looking to downsize and travel more now that their four adult children have moved out of the house, Michael said. The couple is seeking to spend several months internationally each year, also leading them to sell.

“There’s no use keeping a big place like that if we’re not going to spend as much time here,” he said.

The Bailkins plan to buy another home between Wilmington and New York, he said. They love the region and will choose a smaller home or rent while they travel. Their horses will be kept on a separate property, he said.

Michael believes the house would appeal to a local buyer who works remotely or could commute to areas like Philadelphia or King of Prussia. The home could also work well for someone who travels to Washington, D.C., or New York somewhat regularly, as he has done for years, he said. The third floor of the home has been converted into an office.

A Celebratory Sunday at Greenmore Farm Animal Rescue

We were overjoyed to celebrate with our friends at Greenmore Farm Animal Rescue the opening of their new adoption center this past weekend. The center has been the culmination of a significant fund raising effort and will help Greenmore to more smoothly execute its noble mission of rescuing animals in danger and providing them with a second lease on life. 
Greenmore Farm is a 6-acre farmette located in West Marlborough Township, Chester County. The farm currently consists of a 7 stall horse stable, 4 fenced pastures, several sheds, a chicken coop, the brand new adoption center and a fabulous view of the surrounding countryside! Rescue Dogs are housed in a kennel on the property as well as in foster homes. Greenmore Farm is managed and maintained by our friends, Julia Altman and Jack Merritt, along with a wonderful team of caring and dedicated volunteers. Julia and Jack are also clients of the Holly Gross Group and purchased the farm back in 2010 with Holly as their agent. 
Greenmore Farm has saved more than 3,000 lives to date!
Among those are countless dogs, cats, horses and other animals, including the wonderfully eclectic group caught in this action shot from our visit this past weekend - an Emu, two pigs, several goats, and many more fun new friends! Stephen's son, Henry, cannot wait to return!!
Thank you and congratulations to Julia, Jack and the whole Greenmore Farm team!
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New 577 Glenroy Preserve coming to Chester County!

Congratulations to our friends at the Brandywine Conservancy and in the broader Chester County conservation community on their great success in working with the Thouron family to preserve their gorgeous land along the Octorara River! You can read all about it in the Philadelphia Inquirer here. This is a big win for Chester County! Congratulations and thanks to all involved!

Chester County Towns Ranked Best in America (but of course they are!:))

Chester County is at the very top of our list of great places to live in the United States, and we are not alone in our (very biased) opinion.

Stacker, a news site that provides authoritative stories based on accurate data, has ranked the top 100 towns in the country for raising a family. Of these, 4 are in Chester County and three are in the top 10, with Chesterbrook claiming the number one spot on the list.

In our view there are many other places around Chester County and the Greater Philadelphia-Wilmington region that should have made the list!

You can read the story here:

Happy Thanksgiving, from our family to yours!

The only thing we love more than house hunting is fox hunting ... and as such we were truly gratified to be included in Jim Graham's new, gorgeous book, Bound to the Country: 30 Years of Photographing Mr. Stewart's Cheshire Foxhounds.
Bound to the Country is a celebration of our beloved Chester County countryside and a sporting tradition that has defined the countryside of the Delaware Valley for hundreds of years. Town Square Delaware has written an enjoyable synopsis of the book. 
Gross Family in Hunt Kit
If you would like to order a copy for yourself or as a thoughtful holiday gift, you can purchase one (or a dozen-dozen) from Brilliant Graphics.