Despite frequent complaints about the heavy burden placed on Nassau County homeowners by high property taxes and rising interest rates, the real estate market in Seaford and Wantagh — and the county as a whole — remains buoyant.
“The market is in an incredible place right now,” broker Laura Dupkin Memisha, of Realty Advisors in Wantagh, said last week. And despite conventional wisdom that says the optimum time to list a property is from late spring to the end of the summer, now is the best time to sell, according to Memisha.
Inventory is at a low, she said, with just 70 properties listed in Wantagh, 68 in Seaford and 108 in Levittown, out of a county total of more than 4,300 residential properties. “With so few houses on the market, people are going $20,000 to $30,000 over the ask,” Memisha said. And “when inventory is this low, it drives multiple offers.”
“I’ve got eight new listings in the first three weeks of January,” she added. And she had six properties go to contract in December. In an average month, she has three or four new listings, she said.
According to Memisha, “$500,000 is about the floor for an average house in the area,” although some listings may go as high as the low seven figures. With the me-dian sale price for residential property in Nassau County at $515,000 in December and the median price for all property at $471,000, the trough of 10 years ago, when the median price for residential property stood at $438,000, is but a bad memory.
Millennials make up the largest portion of homebuyers, according to Rocco Balzano, president of Money Capital Corp. of Farmingdale. Memisha agreed, saying that most of her customers are in their late 20s to mid-30s. “Nurses, teachers, firefighters,” she said. “Newlyweds or soon to be, looking to start a family.” The majority of purchasers are two-income families, Balzano said, with at least $150,000 in annual income.
Property taxes “don’t seem to have any impact at all,” Memisha said. This is because taxes in the area are uniformly high, and only a small minority of purchasers could benefit from the $10,000 maximum deduction from federal income tax, she said.
Those with good credit may put down 5 to 10 percent of the price, Memisha said. And first-time homebuyers may qualify for mortgages with down payments of as little as 3 percent, according to Balzano.
“Lenders have loosened up the purse strings,” Memisha said. “Mortgages and the Dow Jones [Industrial Average] go hand in hand,” she said, referring to the nearly three-fold rise in the benchmark average over the past decade. As a result, bankers are less conservative than they were in the aftermath of the crash of 2007-09. “If a buyer has decent credit, banks will lend almost any amount,” she said. “People who couldn’t get a loan 10 years ago are buying houses.”
According to Balzano, buyers need FICO credit scores of 580 or higher, out of a maximum of 850, to qualify with most lenders. FICO is an average of the scores of three reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Interest rates have risen steadily since bottoming out in 2016, but are still relatively low, between 4.3 percent and 4.75 percent.
“A good rule of thumb is, every 10K they want to spend on a house equals about $60 a month in mortgage payments,” Memisha said.
Many of those shopping for homes grew up on the South Shore, she said, adding, “People want to live in the area. They’re second or third generation, they have parents, aunts or uncles who live here, or they’re coming back themselves.”
Houses south of Merrick Road in Wantagh and Seaford offer some of the best value, Memisha said. The area’s proximity to water means higher premiums for flood insurance, but home prices often may be discounted accordingly, she said.
Sellers are mainly older couples who are moving south, especially to the Carolinas, Memisha said. “They’re not moving to Florida.” A fixer-upper in High Point, N.C., can go for as little as $29,000, according to realtor.com’s listings for the town. And a two-bedroom house on an 8,000-square-foot lot can go for as little as $139,000, compared with at least $500,000 for a similar house in Wantagh or Seaford.