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Bloomington-Normal homebuyers need patience, luck and money to find the home they want

John Lumpe standing outside the front door
Eric Stock
John Lumpe and his wife Lisa recently moved into a new home in southwest Bloomington.

John Lumpe of Bloomington understands the musical chairs feel of the Bloomington-Normal housing market better than most. He has moved three times in less than two years.

Lumpe came to Bloomington from Ohio in early 2020 for a new job as CEO of the Illinois Soybean Association. He didn't have much time to find a place to stay. He found an apartment in south Bloomington near his office, while his landlord, Tentac Enterprises, let him break his lease when he found a home to buy. Lumpe said that took longer than expected as he soon found himself back in Ohio.

“Then COVID hit 30 days later, and I was commuting between here and Columbus (Ohio) because the state shut down,” Lumpe said.

After searching for a new home in Bloomington-Normal for more than a year, Lumpe found one in the Cedar Ridge subdivision in south Bloomington. He liked it, but it still wasn't exactly what he and his life Lisa were looking for. They wanted a condo, but couldn't find one to their liking until the builder had their new home nearly move-in ready.

“(Contractor Jim Hayes) said, ‘I just got done hanging drywall in one, you ought to go take a look at it,’” Lumpe recalled. “My wife and I decided let’s go take a look at it because as Jim put it, no sense putting money into this house. If you want to get into a condominium put your money into that.”

So that's what the John and Lisa Lumpe did. They found the home they always wanted — nearly two years after their search began.

“We came over and looked at this condominium and fell in love with it and decided to proceed with the purchase of this and the sale of our house,” Lumpe said.

People are buying new homes in McLean County faster than they can be built. Prospective buyers have learned they need money, patience and the luck of good timing to end up in the home they want.

The Lumpes closed on the 3,300-square foot condo off of Fox Creek Road in southwest Bloomington in late December. Their hopscotching from one home to the next shows how tough it can be to find a home in Bloomington-Normal.

The local housing market was stagnant for more than a decade. Many builders left the market or retired. So when electric vehicle-maker Rivian, State Farm and other employers started adding thousands of new workers last year, available housing stock quickly dried up. Some newcomers are staying in hotels. Others commute from nearby communities.

Those who insist on buying new are paying more. Bloomington homebuilder B.J. Armstrong said it's hard to build a new home for less than $400,000, noting the cost of lumber is only one factor.

“We see lumber prices have settled down quite a bit,” Armstrong said. “Now, we are into labor changes and product changes. So the price of windows goes up, the price of water heaters go up. Across the board we are seeing prices go up everywhere.”

Armstrong said builders are paying more because construction workers are hard to find. Rathna Ramachandran recently built a 10-unit development on Bloomington's east side called the Villas at Woodbine. Ramachandran said he has felt the squeeze of a tight job market for builders, adding during the height of COVID restrictions, he had to pay some construction workers up to 60% more than he would typically pay.

Ramachandran said demand also is driving up housing prices since the supply is so limited. He expects prices will stabilize over time as more new homes go up.

His company plans to build 35 single-family homes and 32 attached homes in northeast Normal this year. He said prospective home buyers will soon have more options.

“For the immediate buyers, there is going to be some challenge. They need to do their homework. They need to reach out to the correct builders and look for their requirements that they are met with in terms of price and functionality,” he said.

Ramachandran said functionality for many now means work-from-home space such as an office or other private area, but he said many don't want to pay for more square footage, so he has to creatively fit work-from-home space into the floor plan.

Some people want more space and that's why they are entering the home-buying market. Naren Krishnamurthy of Bloomington has been living in a two-bedroom apartment in east Bloomington with his wife and their son for nearly five years.

Krishnamurthy said now that his son is 11, it's time to buy a house.

 Naren Krishnamurthy and family
Naren Krishnamurthy poses for a photo with his wife, Shruthi Naren, and son, Rishabh Naren, while making a heart symbol with their fingers.

“My son is growing and we are living in a two-bedroom apartment, so I thought, 'OK, let’s give him some personal space,” Krishnamurthy explained.

Krishnamurthy is a software engineer for a company that contracts with State Farm. He said his family found a home two years ago, but he was concerned about his company's future with State Farm and how that might affect his work visa. So they decided to wait. Two years later, they are still waiting, even though he said his work situation has stabilized.

His latest challenge is finding a new home. “When I started in 2020, me and my wife wanted a newly-constructed home, so now we are finding it difficult to find newly-constructed homes,” Krishnamurthy said.

Krishnamurthy said he's always lived in new spaces, adding he gets satisfaction from buying new and there's less maintenance. Krishnamurthy said he has talked with developer Ramachandran about his new project in north Normal and will likely buy a new home there once its's ready.

John Lumpe of Bloomington said he and his wife don't have much time for home maintenance because of their demanding jobs. She works as an adoption consultant. Lumpe said that's why he and his wife were drawn to condo living. He also likes the view of sunsets behind the prairie grass near the second tee of the golf course that's a five-iron from his backyard patio.

After three moves in less than two years, Lumpe said he doesn't plan to move again any time soon.

“It’s somewhat routine, but I’m looking forward to this being the last one,” he said.

Lumpe added he's fortunate he and his wife were able to find a home that best fit their needs at a time when many are struggling to find one in their price range.

The latest data from the Mid-Illinois Realtors Association show new home construction more than doubled last year in McLean, Livingston and DeWitt counties.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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