It’s “the big unknown.”
That’s how area Realtors are referring to the potential impact of the Norfolk Southern train derailment and chemical spill in East Palestine on its housing market.
Rebekah Rouser, manager of the Howard Hanna office in Poland, Mahoning County, said that the office has received calls from East Palestine homeowners looking to sell their properties and asking whether it would even be possible under the current circumstances.
“I talked to a renter who had two young kids, and they just walked away from their rental and started from scratch,” Rouser said.
Howard Hanna’s Maria Cocca Kurelko, who has been a real estate agent for 23 years, added: “With the news that’s coming out, initially it’s going to have a big impact on housing values. People are going to want to be assured that they’re going to be OK if they move into that house, and who can do that right now?”
There is no shortage of comments on social media from people claiming they would immediately leave if they owned a home near the derailment. But that argument doesn’t reflect the economic reality of many homeowners.
“The possible threat of losing home values is very impactful to home owners,” said Coldwell Banker’s Michael Stevens, who is president of the Youngstown Columbiana Association of Realtors. “It’s pretty much the single largest investment that people make. Obviously, the equity in their home would come into play. Hopefully, if recovery is made in the short term, the EPA cleans it up and the railroad company does all the remediation necessary, we can see a minimal impact. That’s the best case scenario and I hope that is the case, but the unknown is the most impactful until that is determined.”
Realtor Amber Hostetter with Lee Hostetter Real Estate said she had been flooded with questions from those planning on selling homes this spring to those who had already made purchases, but she didn’t have many answers.
“It’s a big unknown,” Hostetter said. “I talked to an appraiser and he said that he doesn’t know how to calculate it, because it’s too early to tell.”
East Palestine residents Patti and John Bosley Sr. are among those homeowners with questions. Well aware of the real estate boon in the area, the Bosleys wanted to take advantage of it and planned to sell their home in a year or two when they intended to retire. They are now worried that there will be little or no interest in their house.
“We are going to take a big hit,” Patti Bosley said. “We can’t just up and leave our house. What we thought we were going to get out of our house, that’s not going to happen now. That’s money we thought we were going to have when we retire. Who’s going to make that up?”
Their home on East Adams Road is located about 0.8 mile from the derailment site, within the one-mile radius most affected by the burnoff of the dangerous chemicals. A residue from the chemical burn off coated the exterior of the house.
John Bosley had questions about everything from the effect on the siding to the possible dangers from pressure-washing the house and letting that residue run into the ground.
“When I cut my grass, am I going to be breathing this stuff?” he asked.
Stevens said the Youngstown Columbiana Association of Realtors applied for grants at the state and federal level that could help home owners in the affected areas with their mortgage payments. Those applications, however, won’t be approved if the federal government doesn’t declare it a federal disaster area, and federal officials hesitate to do anything that could keep Norfolk Southern from fulfilling its responsibilities.
“It’s a catch-22,” Stevens said.
Patti Bosley wants Norfolk Southern to be held responsible for those losses and any health-related issues that may surface.
“We don’t know what the future is going to bring. I don’t think these big corporations care about that. They are look at us as a poor town in Appalachia. They don’t care about that. They care about the bottom line. … I think they need to make it right, and we need to keep their feet to the fire. I don’t think this needs to be swept under the rug, or it’s going to happen again.”