Can you hear a nation of real estate agents exhaling?
Charts from the darkest days of the 2007-09 subprime mortgage crisis depict price drops so steep, you half expect to see Wile E. Coyote racing off the edge.
"My thoughts were, Are we ever going to recover?" says Joan Ellis-Saxton, a Howard Hanna real estate agent.
By 2012, foreclosures had made it all the way to the top. That year, CNN reported that the share of foreclosures on million-dollar-plus homes had risen by 115 percent since 2007, while less expensive home foreclosure rates had actually begun to fall by 21 percent.
Yet bright spots on the luxury market were emerging. Nationally, sales of homes worth more than $500,000 rose by 50 percent between 2010 and 2014, according to the National Association of Realtors.
In Northeast Ohio, 40 homes valued at $1 million or more sold in 2013, compared to 52 in 2007. While just 30 sold in 2014, notes real estate agent Craig Cantrall of Chestnut Hill Realty, they were some of the priciest to date, including a $6.5 million home in Gates Mills and a handful of others selling in the $2 million and $3 million range.
"Back in 2006, 2007, 2008, a lot of people would say, 'Why would I spend a million dollars in Cleveland?' " notes Ellis-Saxton. "We don't hear that anymore. Now, people are coming in and spending $2 [million], $3 [million], $4 million. They are spending that kind of money in Cleveland and they are comfortable doing it."
Howard Hanna real estate agent Greg Willis points to the synergy in Cleveland today as a key driver of luxury home sales. There's a lot going on in town, he notes, from the upcoming Republican National Convention to the growth downtown.
"The activity is picking up," he explains. "I think we're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel."
During the 2009 slump, he showed one high-end listing just two times in a year. Now he's seeing first-time homebuyers returning to the market with a vengeance, enabling current homeowners to trade up — and up and up. One of his recent luxury listings had around 15 showings in just three months and sold in less than a year.
What does it all mean for the 250 homes on this list?
They're bigger and better than ever.
For starters, we nailed our 2008 prediction on the No. 1 house (although we couldn't have predicted the range of emotions we'd experience en route to the outcome). Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James' home in Bath Township, where he tore down the original and rebuilt in the late 2000s, checks in at a regal $9.5 million. Newer homes are more popular than ever, although the real estate agents we polled were unanimous on one major effect of the crisis: No more multimillion-dollar spec homes. You want to buy a brand-new home? You'll have to find a builder to custom build to your specifications.
In 2008, half the homes in our top 10 were built before 2000. Today, just three are more than 15 years old. Buyers aren't afraid to purchase a home, tear it down and build their dream home, says Howard Hanna's Ellis-Saxton: "When they come [to tour], they come with an architect."
In fact, just three grand old ladies on the list were built before 1900 (you can get a peek inside one on page 80).
Homebuilding everywhere slowed to a crawl after 2008, yet glance at the city rankings on the list and an encouraging picture emerges.
In Hunting Valley — the seemingly limitless reservoir of luxury homes in Northeast Ohio — two homes on our list were built in 2007, and three were built in 2008. With no homes in the Top 250 built in the hamlet during 2009 and 2010, seven million-dollar homes popped up in the area between 2011 and 2013, propelling Hunting Valley even farther into the lead. In 2008, it was home to 52 of the properties on our list. Today, there are 67 homes in the Top 250 (including more than half of the homes in the top 50).
Of the 50 homes on our list with the most acreage, 33 are located in Hunting Valley or Gates Mills, and each property sprawls across at least 7 acres. Compare that to lakeside living, where 43 of the 50 homes with the least amount of acreage can be found in five shoreline cities: Lakewood, Rocky River, Avon Lake, Bay Village and Bratenahl. (But, oh, those expansive views.)
Whether they're lakeside gems or tony estates, one thing unites our 2015 list of the Top 250 homes in Northeast Ohio: A strong sense of family. From that No. 1 home built for a growing brood of future basketball stars to the sounds of an unexpected snow day in Bratenahl, these are homes filled with life. And now, says Chestnut Hill Realty's Cantrall, is the time to find the dream home where you can raise your own.
"The housing in Cleveland is a tremendous value," he explains. "Things are looking up."
After a six-year hiatus, our list of the Top 250 homes in Northeast Ohio is back. Happy dreaming.