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Buyers flock to Bay City, Michigan for ultra-low home prices

Small towns with natural attractions and lots of amenities are heating up

As work-from-home becomes more of a national norm, prospective homebuyers are seeking better home values in small towns that still offer a lot of amenities. One of those is Bay City, Michigan — a town of approximately 33,000 90 minutes outside of Lansing — that’s one of the 25 hottest MSAs in the country. With a median listing price of $92,000, Bay City is luring people from all over the country.

Per Realtor.com, homes are being sold at an average of $111,000 in Bay City, and the average listing price per square foot is only $75. Incredibly, that median listing price of $92,000 is up 15.8% compared to 2020. The Bay City Realtor Association reported that 222 homes have already been sold in 2021 – a 7.9% increase year-over-year.

Those prices are high for agents who sell exclusively in the mid-Michigan area, but for homebuyers looking to get out of a popular metro area — say, Detroit, which is two hours from Bay City — the deals are hard to beat.

“People come here and they see our prices, and their eyes become saucers,” said Barb Appold, a realtor for Berkshire Hathaway Home Services MI Real Estate. “I tell my clients, if you want a house, you’ve got to go in with an offer immediately and you’ve got to make it strong.

Appold noted that she had four offers in the first 24 hours when she put her daughter’s home on the market, and quickly set up 15 different showings the house before drawing the line.

“I had to stop showing it,” she said. “It was just crazy.”

In Bay City, once known as “the mecca for lumbermen,” the high availability of lumber and its proximity to the Sagniaw River made it an important hub for moving goods. Historians believe approximately 25 billion board-feet of lumber floated on the Saginaw River to the mills between 1851 and 1897. By the late 1800s, many in town were flush from the shipping business.

Eventually, homes matching the cash flow of the builders and investors were built, some to the tune of 6,000 square feet. Many of those nineteenth-century mansions are still in town today, and people are buying them for — you guessed it — a bargain.

“All of the mansions are still pretty well-maintained whenever they go on the market, so the ones in good shape are going for absolute steals – around $399,000 to $410,000,” Appold said. “I sold one around 6,500 square feet for $410,000.”

One of Appold’s other daughters – she has three – recently bought such a home with five bedrooms, four fireplaces, and maplewood floors for under $400,000.

“It’s easily a $1 million home anywhere else,” she said.

Other agents mentioned that investors are swarming, as well. Wade Eckenrod, an associate broker with RE/MAX in Bay City, said homes are getting sold “before the ink is dried” by investors who are willing to take on these homes sight-unseen.

“[Investors] look at our prices and laugh,” Eckenrod said. “They send us cash offers and they say ‘I don’t care what’s wrong with it – I’ll take it.’ And if I don’t find a buyer immediately when I list a property, I’m getting plenty of people making offers without even looking at the price or even doing an inspection.”

Builders are backed up, too.

Scott Doyen, of Scott Doyen Builders in Bay City, said getting materials hasn’t been an issue – but the cost, like in so much of the country, is forcing customers to scale back the size of the homes they order. Lumber prices, specifically, are sky-high right now, he said.

“A sheet of plywood was $5.97 a sheet one year ago, and now it’s $34 a sheet,” Doyen said. “Luckily, people are still wanting to build out here – they’re just building 2,500 square foot home instead of 3,000 square foot homes. That’s the only real difference, though. It’s crazy out here.”

Doyen added he gets three to five phone calls a day for people wanting to build, and he’s had to refer callers to otther builders in the area.

“I’m booked all the way until 2022,” he said.

Whether building a new home or snatching up an existing deal, there’s more than just affordable homes in Bay City. Beach and waterfront enthusiasts will enjoy the scenery along the Saginaw River, which multiple agents said offers some of the best scenery in the state, along with riverfront dining and activities. Bay City is also a short drive from the shores of Saginaw Bay, which feeds into Lake Huron.

“I think we’re one of the best-kept secrets,” Appold said. “We’ve got great restaurants, the waterfront, and we’ve got investors coming to town. It’s a great place to live.”

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