by Terry Rogers
Wes Cromer of Masten Realty is looking forward to continued growth in the real estate market for 2019. According to Cromer, the residential market in Milford and the surrounding area continues to be in high demand with low inventory with interest rates at an historical low. With Bayhealth planning to open their new Milford Campus in February, real estate agents throughout the area are seeing changes in the market.
“It is still tough to gauge how the new hospital is going to affect the residential market overall, but I have already seen a change in one category,” Cromer said. “That category is the higher end market. In Milford, I believe the higher end category has a home purchase price above $350,000. After the early 2000 real estate boom, and over the past ten years, that price range has never had a strong pool of buyers for our area. We have recently seen a change in that down around the new health campus. For example, three or four years ago, I sold the remaining lots in Knollac Acres on the eastside of Route 1 to a builder out of Dover. Knollac Acres has larger, three-quarter acre lots in the development that supported 3,000 plus square-foot homes and prices in the mid-$300s or higher. At that time, the builder struggled to move units at a strong enough pace and ended u re-selling those lots and ended up selling the lots to K Hovanian, a national home builder. Timing is everything and K Hovanian came in and basically sold out the remaining lots fairly quickly for “Milford standards” and those prices, from what I saw, were near or above $400,000 on average.”
Cromer believes that the new hospital will also have an impact on towns and surrounding areas, but locations where DelDOT has created new infrastructure will see the most change in the near future.
“I believe that the Route 1 overpasses stretching from Thompsonville and south will spur growth in those direct areas off Route 1,” Cromer said. “Building infrastructure for traffic flow is key for the larger scale developers and commercial builders to take the leap of faith in the Milford market. The new hospital and other successful businesses like Grottos, Royal Farms as well as new business coming in, like Microtel and the movie theater, will hopefully show other businesses that this area can support their business. Milford has always had a great location on the map, but now you can actually see something substantial being created at the south overpass by Bayhealth and it continues north from there all the way up to the DE Turf complex in Frederica. The Lingo project off of the Route 36 exit is a prime example of a larger scale developer from our area taking the leap of faith to develop a mix of residential and commercial just west of Route 1 and also fronting Rehoboth Boulevard.”
When Bayhealth moves to the new campus, Nationwide Health Services will take over the old hospital building on Clarke Avenue. Cromer believes that the 300-plus employees who will be working in the Nationwide Wellness Village will bring in a mix of home buyers and renters. However, because he does not have much information on the company, Cromer is not sure how much that will impact the Milford market. He does believe that having Nationwide occupy the space vacated by Bayhealth is important as there will not be a huge void left when the new hospital opens and there will still be a strong employee base in the downtown area.
“I think we can all see things happening in the commercial market,” Cromer said. “The movie theater in the old Walmart building, the revitalization going on along Front Street downtown with the Pikus building and the old Boys and Girls Club property, hotels and new restaurants in the works on Route 1. But the area needs to continue to see a mix of commercial properties that bring in employees to the area rather than just service and entertainment-type development. I love downtown Milford, and at times, the foot traffic is heavy enough to have restaurant and retail businesses thrive, but those times are few and far between. That has always been an issue with supporting the small businesses that operate in the downtown district. There has to be a reason for people to be downtown more frequently so that these small businesses can be successful.” One empty building downtown that Cromer sees as having potential is the old firehall. He believes the building would be perfect for nice, loft-style apartments which would attract young professional people who would live downtown and help the business district.
One concern expressed by many residents is that Milford’s downtown is that many of the storefronts are used as offices rather than retail establishments. Cromer believes that those offices are necessary to support downtown.
“As quaint as our downtown is, it will never be Lewes,” Cromer said. “It is not a tourist town. We need these types of tenants downtown to increase foot traffic and visits to our downtown. For example, the old Eco Chic building was recently sold to an accounting firm. I’ve heard many people saying “well, that’s no fun.” I agree with that, who likes accounting? But I also believe a tenant like this is great for our downtown. That firm will consistently bring a handful of employees and, between now and April 15, I bet the downtown sees several new people every day coming in to review their taxes and maybe walk around downtown to spend some money.” Cromer also pointed to the Gillis Gilkerson Development team who purchased the former Boys and Girls Club property on Front Street. Gillis Gilkerson is currently remodeling the building to house an insurance company in one portion of the building and plans to lease another section. Cromer believes that this is great for downtown as the more consistent the foot traffic, the more successful businesses that already exist downtown will be.
Cromer would like to see some nice housing within walking distance to Walnut Street in order to see real change in the foot traffic downtown. He does feel the town is moving in that direction.
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