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What's behind the increase of home prices in Fayette County?

Fayette County home sales realty 1.JPG
Matthew Rand
A home sits for sale on Bramble Avenue in Washington Court House, Ohio.

A recent report from the real estate group Columbus Realtors shows central Ohio home prices rose an average of 9.4% in December of 2022 from the same month in 2021.

A notable outlier was Fayette County, where average home sale prices jumped by nearly 50%. Experts say the $3.5 billion EV battery plant Honda is building in the county will likely continue to drive up prices for the foreseeable future.

“Honda's goal I think is to be fully operational by 2025, so by then I'm sure we're gonna see a whole lot of influx on the other side as well...families coming in, people coming in, just a growing population," said Erin Rickman, a real estate agent and licensed broker with Key Realty in Washington Court House.

Rickman said the rural, small town way of life in this county of 29,000 people is what attracted her to the area. “I really enjoy the school districts. I really enjoy knowing the people that I see on the streets...going and grabbing a coffee and seeing 10 people that you know is very comforting."

On top of that, Rickman said the community was affordable. The three-bedroom, two-bath, 1,800 square foot home situated on an acre of land she bought 12 years ago cost about $130,000. "Fantastic prices. Anyone would be excited for those."

Erin Rickman realtor Fayette County 1.JPG
Matthew Rand
Erin Rickman is a real estate agent and licensed broker with Key Realty in Washington Court House, Ohio.

In December of last year, the average home price in Fayette County was over $223,000, according to Columbus Realtors. It's important to keep in mind that just 20 homes sold in December. With such a small sample size, a few expensive homes can inflate the average.

Experts say a more stable metric is the median, or "middle" sale price. Fayette County's median sale price in December was about $190,000, quite a bit lower than the average but still a 30% increase from the year prior.

Rickman said it's a trend that started with the pandemic. "We saw a lot of influx from people who were able to work remotely. Come here, we have a bit lower property taxes, high-rated school districts, you get a little bit more land and would be a little further away from your neighbors. So that really made us very enticing for COVID."

At the start of 2020, Jen Milne and her boyfriend were looking to buy a home in the area closer to his job. They settled on Washington Court House. "We could get a bigger house, bigger bang for our buck, because at the time Washington Court House hadn't boomed, per se," Milne said.

Milne said at the time it was a buyer's market. They avoided any bidding wars and in February signed on a historic four-bedroom home built in 1901. "It's wood floor and it's got beautiful built-in wood mantels...I couldn't walk away from it."

Then COVID lockdowns began, and Milne said home prices on her street began to climb almost immediately. She said a home very similar to hers across the street listed at $120,000 ended up selling for closer to $250,000. "We got in just in time."

More recently, Milne has been in the market for a duplex or triplex she can rent out, but she said she's been outbid by investors who can pay in cash. The competition has been aggressive, she said. “I've seen just in the last six months, the investors are buying up the dilapidated homes and making $100,000 on them.”

On the flip side, Milne said the increased interest in Fayette County has brought with it new and more diverse downtown businesses. "Locally-owned businesses are really thriving," she said.

As the area embraces growth and change, Fayette County will need to build a lot more homes to keep up with demand, which doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon.

Matthew Rand is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides with Ann Fisher.