BERLIN- More than two years after the honor, the glow of Berlin’s designation as America’s Coolest Small Town remains. For the most part merchants are busy, residents are happy and visitors are frequent.
While there is rarely a commercial vacancy to be found in the downtown area, how does the town’s residential real estate market compare?
“Berlin’s a hot location,” said Bernie Flax, a broker with Exit Realty at the Beach and a member of the board of directors of the Coastal Association of Realtors (CAR).
Flax says homebuyers from the Delmarva area are familiar with the town’s charm and want to be a part of the community. Buyers not from the area visit its historic downtown and are struck by the small town feel.
“People who come here that don’t know the area live such a fast-paced life they want to slow down and unwind, maybe go to the beach,” she said.
She still recalls a sale she made to a couple from Washington D.C. She had shown them homes in Somerset County, Wicomico County and even southern Delaware to no avail. When she finally brought them to Berlin, all it took was a walk down Main Street and lunch at Rayne’s Reef for them to fall in love with the town.
“It’s just quaint,” she said. “They thought it was so cool.”
In 2016, there were 67 homes sold within Berlin’s town limits. While some of them were under contract less than a week after being put up for sale, those in poorer condition spent months on the market. According to Flax the average sale price for in-town homes in 2016 was $207,694, while the average time spent on the market was 115 days.
“That’s really not bad,” Flax said.
She says current statistics are even more telling. As of Jan. 26, there were 24 active home listings in Berlin with average square footage of 1,947 and an average price of $272,954. Six sales were pending as of Thursday, in spite of the fact that winter is traditionally a slow season for real estate. Three of those six pending sales were for homes listed at more than $250,000.
“In Berlin proper, homes that are in good condition are selling very quickly,” Flax said.
As for new construction, Berlin Planning Director Dave Engelhart said there were 10 new single-family homes built in town in 2016. Though that number was on par with 2015 figures, it shows a dramatic increase from 2014, when just four homes were constructed.
Mayor Gee Williams says the town’s current level of new home construction is ideal.
“I believe an average of between 10 and 12 new single-family homes per year would be very healthy for the foreseeable future,” he said.
When asked whether a dozen new homes a year was enough to help pay off the town’s substantially upgraded wastewater treatment plant, Williams said the water and sewer connection fees from those homes would have to be paired with the fees generated by commercial hook-ups to cover debt service. In 2010, consultants estimated it would take 30 new connections a year to cover the debt associated with the upgrade.
“While I am pleased with the rate and diversity of residential development we are currently experiencing in the town of Berlin, I believe we must continue to be proactive with the private sector and our economic development partners at the county and state level to encourage more commercial growth,” he said.
The town’s location near two major highways- Route 50 and Route 113- is something Williams hopes will aid the municipality in attracting commercial development.
“I am both hopeful and confident that if we hold our current course, we have two prime motor vehicle corridors that intersect Berlin that offer a variety of commercial development opportunities while posing no threat whatsoever to our historic and unique downtown residential and shopping experiences that are the primary draw of the thousands of guests who visit and support Berlin all year long,” he said.
The mayor also pointed out that there were projects in town that, while not yet built, were already approved and would bring additional residential growth to Berlin. Oceans East on Seahawk Road, for example, will eventually be home to close to 700 apartments.
“The ongoing challenge of Berlin’s community leaders at any time is to attempt to manage and facilitate a healthy and sustainable rate of growth that assures an economically stable and sustainable standard of living for our residents,” Williams said, “but also realizing that the actual rate of growth is driven by demand from the private sector housing market, of which a municipal government has no influence or control.”
According to Flax, Berlin and Worcester County as a whole will remain popular places to live. CAR statistics show that though listings have decreased somewhat, single-family homes sales in the county are up four percent and prices are up eight percent from 2015 figures. In all, 874 homes were sold in Worcester County in 2016.
“It’s a great place to live,” Flax said. “We’ve got it covered. There’s something for everybody.”