Local first-time home buyers market cited as 'hot,' low interest rates helping boost sales

SCOTTSBLUFF — There are plenty of homes for sale in the community, which is a good sign for buyers and a reflection of the economy as a whole.

DeeJay January, owner and associate broker at Champion Realty, says summertime is typically the peak time for real estate purchases because families tend to make moves while kids are out of school and like to have their housing in place before the kids return to school in the fall. She said snow and ice make it more difficult to move in the winter. In addition, this past winter’s heavy snows impacted showings and slowed things down for a while. However, January said the market is good right now.

“Houses that are priced right and clean tend to go very quickly,” she said. “The first-time home buyers market is very hot, and anything under $200,000 is a close second.” First-time buyers are typically in the $80,000 to $125,000 range.

Platte Valley Bank mortgage lender Taylor Blomenkamp said homes in the $100-$150,000 range seem to be moving quickly. She said that a favorable interest rate around 3% has helped Platte Valley Bank to be ahead of last year on loans for purchase and refinancing. While the interest rate isn’t at an all-time low, a drop a few months back has been a boost.

“When interest rates were higher, in the fours and fives, we didn’t see houses moving quite as much,” Blomenkamp said. “When it gets down to around 3%, people are a little more active about wanting to buy.”

Scottsbluff City Manager Nathan Johnson said there are people in the region looking for jobs, helping create a number of houses available.

“If you look at the number of houses for sale on places like Realtor.com, it gives you a pretty good idea of how many people are leaving the community,” he said.

He added that with layoffs at Cabela’s facilities as well as in the coal mines in Gillette, Wyoming, there are workers coming to Scottsbluff for new jobs as well.

Blomenkamp said realtors frequently like to see 300-400 homes available in the market, but there are not that many at the moment. She said that USDA loans are a particularly useful tool for first-time home buyers.

Jeff Kelley, executive director at Panhandle Area Development District, said his organization will be helping with the administration of an economic adjustment funds grant in Sidney. That funding is for communities hit with big job losses, such as the Sidney Cabela’s. He said the region rarely has the need for this type of program.

“Our valley has always stayed strong,” January said. “Even with the crash several years ago, we’ve stayed pretty strong because we are an ag-based community.”

Kelley said housing is critical across the state, but sometimes it can be difficult to find the right home in the right range. While there are plenty of older homes available, finding a newer home can be a bit more of a challenge.

“It seems to be that housing priced in the $80-$90,000 range is where you’re best able to sell houses,” Kelley said. “You’re not going to get a new house built for that. It’s just not going to pan out. When you get up to $120,000 in it, it gets a little harder to sell, so it’s important to improve our existing housing as much as we can.”

Blomenkamp said new construction loans are typically slower than purchase/refinance loans.

“We do have some new construction loans going right now,” she said. “It’s just not as common to build. It’s pretty expensive.”

The American dream home is what most people are looking to find.

“Families typically want three bedrooms on the main level, open floor plans, a fenced yard and an attached garage,” January said.

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