PITTSBURGH (TNS) — With their daughter Abby ready to graduate from college, Kevin and Cathy Glikes of Robinson went shopping for a second home.
What they found for sale online was a cozy, three-bedroom, 2.5-bath condominium in Seven Springs Mountain Resort that Ms. Glikes, 58, said she and her husband, 63, quickly fell in love with.
"When we saw our place — it was just home," said Ms. Glikes, a retired preschool teacher. "It's a nice getaway from the big city. It was just the right time."
It has been just the right time for many others to move to rural Pennsylvania, even from Maryland, Virginia, Florida and Texas, a new report by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania found. But along with the move has come traffic congestion on twisting country roads and worries about broadband speed, trash pickup and other municipal services which can be lacking in small towns.
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania, an advisory group to the General Assembly, found the number of home sales and median home prices boomed in five rural Pennsylvania counties during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — March through December 2020 — when compared to the same period in 2019.
The focus of the study was the counties of Monroe, Pike, Wayne, Susquehanna and Somerset, where the Glikes bought their condo about two months ago.
Along with an increasing number of property transfers came ballooning median home prices.
In Somerset County, for example, the median pre-pandemic home price was $49,000, according to the study, which was based on state tax and county assessor records.
During the height of the pandemic, the median home price exploded by 200% to $150,000. Actual sales prices were sometimes much higher: the Glikes, for example, paid $316,523 for their condo.
Most of the newcomers to Somerset County from out of state came from urban areas, where the COVID-19 rates were higher than in rural areas as the pandemic hit.
Wayne, Forest and Pike counties had the highest percentage increases in residential property transfers when comparing the March to December periods in 2019 and 2020, each seeing an increase in excess of 40%.
Even Fayette County, which was not part of the study, saw an 11.6% increase in residential property sales between 2019 and 2020, despite a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases that nearly overwhelmed WVU Medicine's Uniontown Hospital in December 2020.
Armstrong, Philadelphia and Washington counties had the biggest percentage decrease in property transfers over that period, each with a drop of more than 19%.
"The people in the big cities want to get away," said Patricia A. Peifer, Somerset County recorder of deeds. The office collects a 2% real estate transfer tax that is split between the state, local municipalities and school districts. " Seven Springs, Hidden Valley, Indian Lake — we've seen a big increase."
Spurring the move to the country were the closed businesses and schools due to COVID-19, according to the study. But the influx of newcomers to rural parts also brought concerns about broadband speed, trash collection and other municipal services, according to state Sen. Lisa Baker, a Republican from Luzerne County.
"Business closures, job restructuring and health worries have caused more people to relocate," she said at a Harrisburg news conference on Wednesday when the report was released. "Traffic congestion — something we only saw during the seasonal summer months — is now becoming a year round concern."