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For first-time buyers, a great market

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Jon and Amanda Bergstrom rented a house for about a year before they joined the growing number of people who are  jumping into the Woodstock real estate market, buying a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath house on Anne Street in September.

“It’s a great time to buy, especially as first-time homebuyers,” said Amanda Bergstrom, a 27-year-old pastor at Grace Lutheran Church. 

Her husband, 31, who works as a chaplain at Hospice & Palliative Care of Northeastern Illinois, agreed.

“We valued becoming a little more settled in the community and finding a place we could call our home,” Jon Bergstrom said. “Good interest rates and low prices made it seem like it would be a good time to buy. I guess no one really knows for sure, though.”Jon and Amanda Bergstrom gather with their dog near the Christmas tree in their new home. They purchased the house on Anne Street in September. | INDEPENDENT PHOTO BY KATELYN STANEK

After years of slow sales in the local real estate market, things seem to be picking up, with 2012 single-family home sales in Woodstock up nearly 41 percent over 2011, according to the Multiple Listing Service. That’s good news for sellers looking to unload property — but only if they’re willing to do it at prices well below 2007 values, before the burst of the so-called real estate bubble. Housing values in Woodstock have decreased 43.2 percent over the past five years, making home ownership especially appealing to renters who don’t have existing properties to sell.

“We looked at about 20 houses,” said Amanda Bergstrom. “It was a lot.”

“It was fortunate for us that we were in a position where we could be patient and kind of take our time and see what else is out there,” Jon Bergstrom said. 

Even with the luxury of time, however, the Bergstroms said the uncertainty of the market made buying a challenge.

“I think you hear, all the time, about the great deals that are out there,” Jon Bergstrom said. “I don’t know if that kind of skews perspective, and you think, ‘Oh, well, maybe we can get this house to come down a little more.’ Once we got out there, we saw what houses are priced at, and there’s variation there, too. I mean, it’s just what people think it should be priced at. [We thought,] ‘Is this the one, or can we find one for a better price?’”

“You look at the history of what houses have sold for over the years, and there’s no real way to know what it should be worth,” Amanda Bergstrom added.

Still, the couple said they’re happy to be among the increasing ranks of recent homebuyers in Woodstock, even if the path to homeownership can be daunting.

“It was really important to us to live here, where we work,” Amanda Bergstrom said. “I don’t want to do it again any time soon, though. It’s a lot to figure out.”