Chestertown Real Estate Market Sizzles; Who’s Our New Neighbor?

By Ellen Uzelac


Want to know two of the hottest words in Chestertown right now? FOR SALE.


The real estate market in Chestertown and throughout Kent County is on fire. Sure, mortgage interest rates, hovering at three percent, are at a historic low – attracting both investors and first-time homebuyers. No surprise there. But then there’s this key contributor: the coronavirus pandemic. The what? No one saw that coming.


As Retha Arrabal, an associate broker with Doug Ashley Realtors, frames it: “When COVID-19 happened and everything shut down, I was concerned. Who’s going to buy and sell property in a pandemic? I figured it was going to be a bad year. That has not been the case whatsoever.”


A number of factors are in play. For starters, during lockdown the home doubled as both workplace and classroom – and continues to do so. As a result, it triggered what Realtor Miles Norris of Select Land & Homes calls a “reimagining.” Going forward, with telecommuting and telelearning the new norm, a house has a different job to do. “People were cooped up for months. They sat in their homes and thought: `Maybe I need something different. Maybe this space doesn’t work for me anymore,’” says Norris.


Additionally, COVID-19 refugees from dense population centers like Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and northern Virginia are  looking at the rural Eastern Shore as a potential safe haven.


“It’s a new dynamic. Staying home with family and hunkering down has caused people to have a new appreciation for life in general. It has served as an awakening,” notes Lynn Hilfiker, who specializes in water-oriented properties for Gunther McClary Real Estate. “They’ve worked from home and realize they can do that in a rural area where we have natural social distancing. It’s sort of an opportunity to think outside the box.”


Two new questions Hilfiker is getting from prospective buyers: How fast is Amazon Prime delivery? How reliable is the internet connection? Poor connectivity is now a dealbreaker.


Hilfiker says waterfront properties in Rock Hall in the $1.2 million range are experiencing “robust” showings. Recently, she had an offer come in with an escalation clause – meaning the buyer was prepared to pay full price or above should a  competitive offer surface.


“These are different type buyers who seem really intrigued by our lifestyle here. It used to be: Where’s the nearest Chuck E. Cheese? These buyers are craving something different, something more pure,” she adds. “I think we’re just at the beginning of it.”


Notably, attorney Pam Duke, principal with Duke Law, has settlements scheduled through the end of October. “It’s a really busy time, there’s been a big uptick in real estate,” she says. 


Inventory is also low, creating a seller’s market. Paula Reeder, of Long and Foster Realty, has been struck by the scarcity of housing for sale, particularly in Chestertown. At the moment, she doesn’t look for that to change.


“If people are in their homes and they’re comfortable, personally and economically, I think they are inclined to stay,” she says. “There are so many questions out there: What’s going to happen with the virus? What’s going to happen with the pandemic? What’s going to happen with the economy? No one wants to rock the boat right now. My sense is that people who are here are happy to be here and don’t know where else they’d go.”


In Chestertown, homes that have been on the market for months, even years, are selling and new listings, according to Arrabal, are “flying off the MLS (Multiple Listing Service).”


As an example, Norris listed a house for sale in Chestertown a year and a half ago that languished on the market. When he relisted it this summer, it had a cash offer in three days within five percent of the asking price.


“Overall, everything’s pretty hot. A lot of stuff is selling, if priced correctly. Right now, you’re seeing multiple offers, cash offers, things going above asking. If I had a place to go, I’d sell my house,” he added. “Volume wise, we’re all slammed. You settle one deal and you have two others coming in. It makes it a lot of fun.”


As of August 24, in the 21620 zip code, 58 properties were listed as under contract or pending and 69 were for sale, ranging from a $19,600 teardown to a $6.5 million waterfront farm.


“If you have a home below $300,000 it’s going to move. If it’s below $200,000, there will be multiple offers,” Arrabal says. “It’s interest rates and it’s the virus. Just last fall, if you put in an offer within 10 percent asking, you had a shot of getting it. Not so now.”


Tom Draper, a mortgage loan officer with First Home Mortgage, serves clients in Kent and Queen Anne’s counties. His take? “One of the biggest deterrents to buying here was the commute and the Bay Bridge. As more people work from home, you will see an influx of buyers from the western shore and elsewhere. It’s already happening. This is just the start.”


Chestertown freelance journalist Ellen Uzelac is a former West Coast bureau chief and national correspondent for The Baltimore Sun.

–“These are different type buyers who seem really intrigued by our lifestyle here. It used to be: Where’s the nearest Chuck E. Cheese? These buyers are craving something different, something more pure,” she adds. “I think we’re just at the beginning of it.” —

Lynn Hilfiker, Gunther McClary Real Estate.