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A third of Elkhart homes sell above asking price, rising wages could be to blame

for sale

For sale signs in neighborhoods throughout Elkhart County are rare. (WFIU/WTIU News)

A recent index compiled by the Wall Street Journal and Realtor.com found Elkhart is the top real estate market in the country.  

While the news was surprising to some, many attribute the upward trend to the region’s economy. Driving through Elkhart, you wouldn’t have much trouble finding work. 

Many of the RV manufacturers that make this northern Indiana city the RV capital of the world are searching for workers-- lots of them.    

“You don't need a college degree; you can make very good money and a very good lifestyle,” Darryl Searer, President of the Recreational Vehicle / Manufactured Housing Hall of Fame said. “Right now the problem is there's a housing shortage.”

Realtors struggling with low inventory

Searer has worked in the industry for decades, and asserts Elkhart is one of few cities or towns left where opportunities are plentiful for workers without credentials or advanced degrees. 

Few understand the need for housing better than Corey White. He’s been a Realtor in the area for 20 years and was born and raised in Elkhart. 

“Half the homes we sold last year were in five days or less,” he said. “So I feel terrible for buyers.”

White says ideally the market would have 600 to 800 homes available, but that many homes haven’t been for sale here in years. 

In 2021, we started off with 100 units of housing active on the market, we bottomed out about April at about 62 units,” he said. “So, the first six months of 2021, when you listed something you'd have 20 to 30 showings on it. The day after you listed it you get 10 to 15, 20 offers on it. At that point, just being qualified as a buyer is not good enough.”

The median price of home sales in Elkhart continues to outpace the state average.

He says it’s not uncommon for buyers to search for months for a home that fits their needs. Darleen Henyon was one of them.  

“I was on the computer every day looking to see what was new, what popped up,” she said. 

Henyon spent months and placed at least three offers before finding her current home. While it fits all of her needs, it is farther from her daughter and granddaughter and outside of Elkhart in nearby Mishawaka. 

“What I could afford, not to be condescending, but I mean they were kind of dumpy that needed fixing up which I didn't have the money,” Henyon said she didn’t have the money to “redo a kitchen or a bathroom or a roof,” and admitted she “was kind of nervous there trying to find something.”

What's driving housing demand?

White doesn’t see this as a bubble. He says inflation and global supply chain challenges are limiting the number of new homes that can be built. That’s a big reason why many workers migrate to Elkhart County to work. 

“More than 30 percent of our inventory sells above asking,” he said. “That's what keeps pushing prices up.”

The prices seen in Elkhart are easily outpacing other Indiana communities. According to data from the state’s office of Realtors, the median selling price in Elkhart was up more than 22 percent in 2021, which is 62 percent higher than the state’s increase.  

“When people have money to blow, they buy RVs and other fancy large ticket items,” White said. “Likewise, when the economy starts to scale back and people get more conservative, we're one of the first things to shut off.

He admitted “It’s always been feast or famine here.”

Residents say there is a backlog of orders for RVs. That paired with a nationwide shortage of workers is inflating demand. White says this cycle isn’t new. 

home for sale
Homes for sale throughout Elkhart are difficult to find. The limited supply and large demand for workers are pushing prices even higher. (Devan Ridgway, WTIU/WFIU News) 

Right now, the market shows signs of slowing, despite rising inflation. 

Henyon began looking for a new home when the price of her rent continued to increase beyond what she could afford.  She’s retired, widowed and faced similar issues when searching for a home to buy. 

“I don't have any other income but me,” she said. “I don't have anybody else to help or fall back on, so that was a problem.”

Those are the buyers White feels for the most. 

I feel bad for Darlene,” he admitted. “Darlene is the salt of the earth, the middle class who planned for her retirement, and now because the dollar is worthless, she screwed.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wages in Elkhart County were up 22 percent between the second quarter of 2020 and 2021. That’s compared to a 5.4 percent increase statewide. 

Despite average wage increases, the problem has gotten worse for those like Henyon on fixed incomes. 

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