GR housing market loosens


The Grand Rapids housing market is not as tight as it was in April or May, but it’s still a seller’s market.

There are few signs pointing toward the Grand Rapids home value surge coming to a halt, said Steve Vanderwey, the branch manager of Churchill Mortgage.

Vanderwey said he’s seeing many potential homebuyers seeking preapproval and competing with multiple buyers on good-condition homes priced well and in good areas.

“Buyers are finding what they can,” he said. “Homes are staying on the market a bit longer, and there’s a healthy inventory compared to earlier this year. We’re appreciative of that because when it gets too tight, there is some irrational buying and selling.”

The mid-2017 West Michigan residential climate is a 180-degree change from seven years ago when a seller would see no interest while listing at a price well worth seeking. Because of the uncertainty caused by the Great Recession, buyers weren’t ready to jump into a long-term commitment, such as a 30-year mortgage, Vanderwey said, so it became a buyer’s market, allowing them to dictate the terms.

Now, Grand Rapids home values have well surpassed the levels of pre-recession.

According to the mortgage information website, Grand Rapids-Wyoming median home value is 22.78 percent above the pre-recession peak.

Vanderwey sees the hype and believes West Michigan could continue to rise, as the value compared to the nation, and even state, still is great. West Michigan communities continue to land on “hottest housing market” lists, including a SmartAsset study listing Grand Rapids as the No. 3 “Hottest Housing Market.”

“I’m not versed well enough nationally to say if the overall value can continue, but in West Michigan, there is still room to hold or continue to grow,” he said. “It’s not unreasonable, as people are getting homes in good areas with good property.”

Despite the substantial increase in home values, Vanderwey said very little has changed in the 25 years he has worked in the mortgage industry. The current process can get frustrating for older, retired homeowners who might be looking to downsize, Vanderwey said, as mortgage lenders do have to adhere to more strict guidelines for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac when it comes to verifying a consistent income.

“Maybe they’re retired and their incomes don’t fit the guidelines and the lender who they’ve worked with for so long should make some concessions, but they can’t do that,” he said.

A key aspect he said has changed very little is the desire of a potential homebuyer, of any age, to meet face-to-face with a mortgage lender.

“They find it to be a comfort and peace of mind to sit with us and make sure the decision is a good one,” he said.

Whether or not a person is ready to jump into homeownership, Vanderwey said it’s smart to begin discussions with mortgage professionals and stay on top of residential real estate news and trends.

A brief discussion with a home loan specialist can help make homeownership go from an out-of-reach dream to an attainable goal, he said.

“Maybe you need to pay some debt, save some money or shore it up with a more permanent career,” Vanderwey said. “They can help you identify and isolate the things you need to do and gives a focus and a path to get to the goal of, ‘I want to own a house.’

“Once that path is identified, it makes something that almost seems impossible seem possible and almost inevitable.”

While the U.S. Census Bureau reports the lowest levels of homeownership in decades, Vanderwey said homeownership still is a key piece of the American Dream, financial stability and a better decision than renting.

“I’ve looked at it a number of ways and there is not a more affordable way to live,” he said. “There’s not a better way to manage long-term housing costs.”

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