DULUTH – Home sellers in the Duluth area are firmly in control of the market, leaving some buyers in the cold as sale prices continue to set records.

"It's low inventory, multiple offers — we know real estate has just been on fire this past year," said Shaina Nickila, Lake Superior Area Realtors board chairwoman.

In November the median sale price in the Duluth area reached a record $215,000 — 25% higher than November 2019 — in a month that typically sees activity slow down and prices start to drop, according to Lake Superior Area Realtors data.

Compared to 2019, home sales rose 21% as buyers and sellers more than made up for time lost to the pandemic this spring.

"The same vibe is continuing on into December," Nickila said. "Everyone is predicting this momentum will carry into 2021 because of those record-low mortgage rates."

Low rates have helped buyers offset the increase in prices in the area. But their choices have grown extremely limited — the number of homes for sale dropped by 35% year over year in November.

"The main concern for most folks is inventory — what do we do, and how do we tackle this?" Nickila said. "A lot of folks are trying to put an emphasis on grants and financing programs and educating the public on why we need more housing."

Across the border around Superior, Wis., the trend is similar. Home prices rose 10% in northwestern Wisconsin as inventory fell 27% year over year.

Earlier this month, Duluth officials announced more than $30 million in state money to support local housing programs. The money will help build 52 new units of affordable housing and rehabilitate nearly 100 units.

"Housing is a basic human right," Mayor Emily Larson said at a news conference last week. "It just feels so good to finally have a piece of good news in the dumpster fire that has been 2020."

The housing crunch is felt statewide. Minnesota Realtors CEO Chris Galler said in a statement this month that agents were "hard pressed to match clients with the right home at an affordable price."

"As we look toward a new year, we can be hopeful that new listings will increase in the spring, relieving some market pressure," he said.

Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496