A sprawling county's historic center makes a comeback.

Growth and development in Delaware County has surged for years and so has its real estate market. At nearly 17 percent, the county has registered the most rapid growth in Ohio, with median housing values at $293,900. The southern part of the county, the area closest to Columbus, has long been ground zero for that expansion, so it may come as a surprise to learn that the hottest market in the county now is its historic center: the city of Delaware.

For the past two years, the community-ranking group HomeSnacks rated Delaware the 10th-fastest-growing city in Ohio. Of 718 properties sold in the county from January through April 2020, the central city captured 238, or 33 percent of those sales. The next closest community was Powell, with 117 sales.

What’s driving it? Residents and real estate agents point to affordability, a thriving downtown with vintage charm and $60 million in investments in the past decade, and a large historic district filled with a diverse stock of homes built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.

First-time buyers have options within the city, and the area attracts many Columbus commuters, says Stephanie VanGundy, president of the Delaware County Board of Realtors. “When you look at Grandview, or Upper Arlington, or Dublin or Hilliard, they have extremely high prices, and that is bringing consumers to Delaware because they can afford more,” says VanGundy, with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, who moved her office to downtown Delaware last year. “And we’re seeing more of a demand in the city in part because of the expense of school taxes elsewhere that is driving people away.”

New investments in downtown and just east of it also contribute to a vibrant real estate market, she says. “We get young professionals and they want that downtown-life feel,” VanGundy says. “You can have a vibrant local life, and you don’t have to get in a car and go somewhere.”

One of those investors is Zach Price, of Triad Architects in Columbus, whose firm bought the historic, three-story building at 17 N. Sandusky St., once known as Templar Hall, where Frederick Douglass gave a speech on June 6, 1856. The 18,000-square-foot structure is being renovated for retail and office space and is expected to be finished in August, says Price, who plans to seek other in-city and near east side investments. “The great thing about Delaware is it is the one place in the entire county that has a fantastic, walkable downtown that can’t be created anywhere else,” he says. “Downtown Delaware is closer to what the Short North was 10 or 15 years ago. It is an enjoyable experience and not overcrowded.”

Earning credit for that lively downtown atmosphere is Main Street Delaware, a nonprofit, all-volunteer economic development organization for the city’s business district. The group plans regular events like First Friday to create a vibrant experience, says Susie Bibler, the organization’s director.

“Around 2005 to 2007 the street-level vacancy rate for downtown was about 40 percent, but now we are at 96 percent capacity,” Bibler says. “Property owners and businesses are interested in being downtown when they see what is going on, and the school district has improved over the last couple of years.”

Homes anywhere within the Delaware City School District and to the west of the city are popular, says Michelle Brooks of Red 1 Realty. Average sale prices throughout the county rose by 10.5 percent through March, but were up by 14.5 percent within city limits, she says. “We’re still seeing multiple offers going above list price,” Brooks says. “And within the city, the tax bracket is lower compared to the other school districts in the county.”

Kylee Broxterman and her husband faced stiff competition to snap up their starter home last summer, just a 10-minute walk from downtown. “We loved how downtown was up-and-coming, and it had the small-town feel of Athens, where we both went to college at Ohio University,” Broxterman says. “Our budget was small, but we found something affordable.”

More expensive is the stately, historic Northwest Neighborhood north of downtown, but it attracts buyers, too. In the last couple of years, homes sold for between $350,000 and $525,000, Brooks says. “There’s a great sense of definable community in Delaware,” says Lisa Ho, president of the Northwest Neighborhood Association. “You know what Delaware is, and it is not just an extension of Columbus. It has preserved its identity.”

***

Subscribe to Columbus Monthly magazine so that you keep abreast of the most exciting and interesting events and destinations to explore, as well as the most talked-about newsmakers shaping life in Columbus.