For the second time in less than a year, the Elkhart County area has been singled out because of the vibrancy of its economy.
In December, the Elkhart-Goshen metropolitan area had the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 0.9%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And even with some softening in the manufacturing-dominated economy in recent months, the unemployment rate in June rose to only 2.3%, still well below the statewide average of 3.2%.
The area’s low unemployment rate was one of the factors that was mentioned in a report released this week that puts Elkhart-Goshen at the top of the Wall Street Journal/Realtor.com Emerging Housing Markets Index, jumping 11 places from its ranking this spring.
The purpose of the rankings is to identify the metro areas for home buyers seeking an appreciating housing market, a strong local economy and appealing lifestyle amenities, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“In the current climate of rising cost of living and relatively stagnant wages, the appeal of middle-class jobs in a mid-size Midwestern market is clear, and demand for affordable housing in Elkhart-Goshen has been red-hot,” according to the report.
“The median listing price, although relatively low from a nationwide perspective at under $280,000, has exhibited strong year-over-year growth, even as the number of new and active listings on the market has increased faster than in the US at large.”
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People from the Chicago area comprised 21% of those looking at real estate listings in the Elkhart-Goshen market, according to the study. Since the pandemic took hold in early 2020, those involved in real estate sales and development have indicated that an increasing number of people were moving here from Chicago.
“The largest share of home shoppers viewing listings in the Elkhart/Goshen market are from neighboring South Bend, but only slightly behind are viewers from the Chicago metropolitan area,” the report added.
Because of hybrid work schedules that might allow people to perform a portion or all of their work remotely, some are opting to move out of the city to lower their taxes, improve their lifestyle or take advantage of the relatively lower prices for homes and apartments.
Even though the median price for a home in Elkhart County increased 13.2% to $215,000 through the first six months of the year compared to the first half of last year, prices are still at least tens of thousands less than they are in Chicago.
While a prospective homebuyer might be priced out of the market because of rising mortgage rates in Chicago, they might still be able to find a more affordable property in Indiana or neighboring Michigan.
Chris Watts, vice president of public affairs for the Indiana Association of Realtors, said the state actually started gaining population through migration about five years ago ― picking up about 54,000 people ― and most of those are coming from Illinois.
“It makes sense to consider a move if you only have to go into the office a couple of days a week,” Watts said. “And the double-tracking of the South Shore will give another boost to the trend.”
Construction of that project got underway last month. It aims to cut travel times from Chicago to South Bend and cities in between, ultimately making more of Indiana a suburb of Chicago.
Elkhart-Goshen jumped 11 spots from the spring index to reach the top. Fort Wayne jumped nine spots to place fourth on the summer index.
“It’s good publicity,” said Levon Johnson, president and CEO of the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce. “With home prices growing, it shows we’re becoming a more desirable place to live.”
But on the other hand, increasing real estate prices and higher interest rates will make it even more difficult for local residents interested in getting into housing, so officials need to continue focusing on initiatives aimed at affordable housing, Johnson added.
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The index considers data for the largest 300 metropolitan areas in the United States across two broad categories – the real estate market (50%) and economic health and quality of life (50%).
The real estate market is measured by unique viewers per property via Realtor.com, real estate supply based on median days on the market and median listing price trend.
Some of the economic and quality of life category indicators include unemployment, wages, regional price parities, number of small businesses, amenities, commute and effective real estate taxes.