- The Washington Times - Friday, July 27, 2007

In Berkeley County, the inventory of homes on the market — many of them in or around Hedgesville, a little to the west of Martinsburg — continues to inch upward.

“It is truly a buyer’s market,” says Jackie Avey-King, Realtor and founder of King Street Realty in Martinsburg. “They can pick and choose.”

Just don’t assume everything goes for a song.

“People come up here from the city and think they will get a huge mansion for $100,000,” says Ms. Avey-King, whose longtime business partner is Greg Ahalt. “There is still a bit of sticker shock. For example, you can find houses here in the $700,000 range, but they are much nicer than what you would get in the city for that much.”

Most of the time, buyers “still like a property enough to buy it,” even if it did not initially meet their high expectations of low cost, by urban standards, she says.

“Then again, we still have people who ask whether we have running water” in the homes that are for sale, Ms. Avey-King says with a laugh. “It’s the old West Virginia stereotype.”

One look at some of the prices Hedgesville homes are commanding could be enough to dispel any hillbilly myth.

Telena Spies, an agent with Coldwell Banker, says you can purchase a home in the area for $250,000 — or for triple that.

Hedgesville offers “a mixture of everything,” she says, noting that there are a number of subdivisions there, many offering homes with lots of 2 acres or more. The Woods, west of Hedgesville, is one example: It’s a vacation-home community with amenities including a golf course and swimming pool. But there are other areas that draw families who want 5 acres of land and the chance to send their youngsters to Hedgesville High School, which real estate agents say is well-regarded.

Dan Ryan Builders Inc. is busy developing Archer’s Rock, for which plans include a pool and recreation center for residents, sales consultant Erin Fink says.

Located between Interstate 81 and Hedgesville, the community will feature houses such as the $230,000 Sugar Maple model, with more than 2,000 square feet including four bedrooms, a dining room and breakfast nook, a family room and living room plus walk-in closets.

“You can add a sunroom, a rear extension, a second walk-in closet” and other enhancements, says Ms. Fink, who expects a new model home in the community to be available for inspection this fall.

As an incentive in a slow market, Dan Ryan is offering some buyers a 51 percent discount off add-ons like these.

Those perks are one of the reasons Ms. Avey-King believes that new construction is selling better than existing homes.

“Some builders offer a new car in the garage, or $10,000 toward closing costs,” she says. “The builders are jumping though hoops to maintain their level of activity.”

The overall softening of the market is partly the result of a more discriminating buyer who eschews the meandering Sunday drives breezing by homes for sale, says Ms. Spies, who estimates there are more than 1,200 properties on the market in Berkeley County alone.

“People are very cognizant of their time, and you don’t have a lot of lookers,” she says. “If they are looking, they are usually serious,” especially given the price of gas.

Berkeley County, Jefferson County and Morgan County all offer opportunities to the savvy buyer or builder, says David Hartley, executive officer of the Eastern Panhandle Home Builders Association, which counts 325 companies representing 14,000 employees on its member roster.

Berkeley County is growing faster than any other county in the state, while “there is also a lot of potential in Morgan County because it is so sparsely populated,” he says.

“The opportunities for buyers in this market are very good,” he says. “There are more homes on the market, which gives them more selection. There are more incentives to entice buyers. And interest rates are still at historical lows. All these things indicate that conditions are still good.”

Of the current inventory, Ms. Spies estimates that fully one-quarter are town houses, a relatively new phenomenon in this part of the world. “One builder builds some, and then another follows suit, and then you basically have umpteen town houses” for sale, she says.

Ms. Avey-King, who arrived in West Virginia from North Carolina in the 1960s and could not imagine ever leaving, wonders anecdotally whether the market is starting to pick back up.

“Today makes two days in a row I was out showing houses,” she says. “I think people are tired of hearing the media say the market is down.”



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