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'They feel like they want to be part of the change': Local Realtor gives his take on living in Peoria

Mike Van Cleve, a Peoria based realtor
Jody Holtz
Mike Van Cleve is a Peoria-based Realtor.

With inflation and rising costs at the pump and grocery stores, many people are considering the cost of living in their communities. Factors such as average monthly rent or what it costs to purchase a home could cause some to pack up a U-Haul and drive more than 2,000 miles to find a new, more affordable place to call home.

That’s according to Mike Van Cleve, a Peoria-based Realtor with RE/MAX Traders Unlimited. He defines a healthy real estate market as one with roughly four to six months of inventory, meaning how fast it would take to burn through the houses currently listed on the market without listing any new ones. Thus, he said viewing the market in Greater Peoria as “good” or “bad” right now largely depends on if you are a buyer or a seller.

“We're currently at about 1.4 months supply," said Van Cleve. "So below four months is a seller's market, above six months is a buyer's market. Prior to 2019, we were very heavily in a buyer's market…since 2019, we've been steadily selling through the existing inventory to the point where in April, we got as low as about .8 months supply in the Greater Peoria area, and so that created this kind of frenzy when things were coming on the market.”

As of now, Van Cleve said there are just above 800 homes on the market in the area. While that may seem like a decent number, the current market is largely a seller's market, and purchasing a home is very competitive. This type of market is especially stressful for people who are looking to sell their house and buy a new one at the same time.

“There still is a lot of pent-up inventory where there are sellers who are like, 'Hey, I'm interested in selling. I want to take advantage of these interest rates, but at the same time I don't want to put my house on the market and be homeless because if my home sells, I won't have anywhere to go.' And that's something that in a market like that makes it really challenging,” said Van Cleve.

According to Van Cleve, people buy homes, or do anything for that matter, because they picture their life being better. However, when the housing market is set up in a way where someone could have 24 showings of their house in one day with a contract almost immediately after, he said it creates an impasse for folks who want to sell their house, but don’t have an immediate next place to live.

While, at the moment, the market can be a bit tricky to navigate for buyers and sellers alike, it isn’t stopping people from other communities or other states from choosing to settle in the River City.

Van Cleve offers an explanation on this surge of new people coming to Peoria.

“So, when you come from a community where the average house price is $600,000, and you see that you can get a three- bed, two-bath home for $150,000 or $160,000, and you're paying $2,000 a month in rent for a 500-square-foot studio…I mean people will pack up a U-Haul and drive 2000 miles for that.”

It’s no secret that Peoria’s home prices are much more affordable compared with other cities in the U.S. Peoria was coined the No. 1 most affordable mid-sized city for homebuyers based on a 2021study conducted by AdvisorSmith. However, for those making below the median income, affordable housing is still a big concern in the Peoria area.

“Finding a mortgage for $650 bucks…can be challenging — even finding a rental for $650 dollars is damn near impossible for anything more than a studio or one bedroom, and so when we talk about the idea of affordability, that is a real serious conversation," said Van Cleve.

"How do we take people who are $15, $18 dollars an hour…and how do we put them in a position where they not only have a place where they’re building equity and having an ownership position…but also put them in a position where the water heater goes out and now all of a sudden that is turning into an emergency for them…and that’s a real conversation and I don’t necessarily have all the answers for that.”

Van Cleve is pleased to see the Peoria Area Association of Realtors has a fair housing and equity committee that works with other organizations to raise awareness and make home ownership a reality for those who may be left out of this housing conversation. He also attributes the city’sdown payment assistance program as a step in the right direction to ensure that more people have the opportunity to own homes, regardless of financial circumstances that can prevent that.

Down Payment Assistance Program made available through the City of Peoria
Peoria Area Association of Realtors
Peoria Area Association of Realtors Facebook Page
Down Payment Assistance Program made available through the City of Peoria

While home ownership still may be the traditional American dream that some aspire to reach, Van Cleve stressed that contrary to popular belief, home ownership isn’t for everyone — and it’s equally important to understand the place renting can have in someone's story.

“If you're going to be somewhere for a couple of years owning a house, you might not get your money back," he said. "Renting is a good opportunity for folks who move to the community who want to try out a neighborhood to see whether it's the right thing for them, or just want to rent for a while to figure out what part of the community is right for them.”

He added that landlords may not be the Goliath-type folks people may think them to be.

“My general experience is that most landlords are not these kind of fat cats who are sitting on top of a lot of money. They're your neighbors and your friends that maybe have a house that they moved out of that now…they rent out…I think for the most part, most landlords want to do the right thing by their tenants…because they care about the neighborhood, and they care about the people that are living in there,” said Van Cleve.

The perception of landlords has considerably changed and evolved, perhaps largely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Van Cleve said while most landlords care about maintaining their properties and keeping good relationships with their tenants, Peoria could always use more responsible, local landlords.

“There are some properties that are run by folks who don't have a tie to the community, and they're not invested in those properties," he said. "And there are large parts of the community that have been forgotten from both a city infrastructure standpoint and also from absentee landlords, and to those people, shame on them, and if they're interested in selling, give us a call.

"We'd be happy to let them go. Move on to ruin some other community. But the…investors and the landlords that we work with, who are doing a great job and taking care of people, those people are providing good, safe quality housing for people in the area.”

Whether renting or buying a home in Peoria, Van Cleve thinks Peoria has a lot to offer every resident who chooses to live here — from the expansive public parks, to the growing nonprofit sector working to change Peoria for the better one program, garden, or outreach service at a time.

Heather Ford, artist and Bradley University instructor, painting her mural design on to boxes at Phoenix Community Garden
Jody Holtz
Heather Ford, artist and Bradley University instructor, painting her mural design on to boxes at Phoenix Community Garden

“That's one of the things that I think really makes, you know, our community special is that hard-working spirit and the grit that people have…We have a lot of folks here who are very negative of our community, and what I see from that is…those are folks that have never left here, and so they don't have the perspective to see, you know, why the grass is greener here than in other places,” explained Van Cleve.

“People aren't coming here because it's necessarily better here than where the community they're from. They're coming here because they feel like they can be a part of, of a movement, or they feel like they can be a part of a change. They're not coming here because they're not paying attention to our problems. They're coming here despite our problems, because they feel like they want to be part of the change … that's really empowering.”

Find more information on Van Cleve, including how to buy or sell a house in Peoria, on his website.

Jody Holtz is WCBU's assistant program and development director, All Things Considered host, as well as the producer of WCBU’s arts and culture podcast Out and About.