For more than a year, North Scranton resident Anne Smith, 61, has been trying to sell her William Street home.
She has not received a single offer and fears selling will be next to impossible if a proposed 81 percent rise in property taxes over three years passes.
“It doesn’t bode well if taxes go up that high,” Smith said. “Our incomes aren’t going up, so how are we going to pay for it all? People just won’t want to live in Scranton.”
The middle to late part of the summer is typically slow for the real estate market, said Wayne Evans, owner and broker of Wayne Evans Realty. Lately, there have been more calls coming in that end in “thank you but never mind,” he said.
Evans believes that it is not the proposed tax increase itself that has stymied an already stunted market, but rather the uncertainty of what the increases would mean.
“Every day, it seems like there is a new number coming out of city council,” Evans said. “That uncertainty prevents people from feeling confident in their personal budgets and that keeps them away.”
Cynthia Evans-Herr, president of AGI Real Estate Services in Harrisburg and founder and president of the Lancaster-based Ascensions Group, Inc., said the real estate situation in Scranton is similar to what she has seen in Harrisburg. Sagging real estate markets weigh on struggling cities, she said.
“If real estate stops, then everything stops,” Evans-Herr said.
Over the past two years, crime and poverty have soared as Harrisburg’s finances fell, Evans-Herr said, adding that “declaring martial law” and having the National Guard occupy the city might be Harrisburg’s best bet.
“Scranton is headed down the same path,” she said. “When you have taxes that run rampant and services that are crap, you have a recipe for that kind of meltdown.”
John Torpa, a real estate agent at Nasser Real Estate, said uncertainty in the Scranton market is nothing new. Homes in Scranton are reasonably priced compared to Dunmore or Clarks Summit, he said.
“It all depends on the price,” Torpa said. “If the house is priced accordingly, it sells. Scranton isn’t different than any other municipality.”
Chris O’Boyle, broker and owner of O’Boyle Real Estate LLC, said that he has noticed some anxiety in his clients over the proposed taxes but he’s “cautiously optimistic.”
Once city council passes a finalized budget, buyers will feel more confident investing in the city, he said.
“They’re not going to jump ship,” O’Boyle said. “You have to wait and see what happens. You have to remember that as far as real estate goes, nationally, things are still not that rosy. It’s coming back, but it’s got a ways to go to get back to where it was.”
For Smith, time is of the essence. She is living on Social Security and depends on that income to support herself. She lost her husband, Thomas, eight years ago.
Should she sell the house, her plan would be to move in with her family in South Plainfield, N.J. If she can’t sell the house, she said she needs to consider going back to work, especially if the proposed hikes pass.
“I’ve been in Pennsylvania all of my life,” Smith said. “I was born here, I went to school here, but I’m also a widow on Social Security and it’s difficult to maintain. I really hope I can sell it.”