GM Lordstown idling leads to increase in home listings

WARREN — When Scott Franklin received word in February 2018 that GM Lordstown was losing its second shift, he said he knew something was wrong. Initially, he and his wife, Heather, held off on making any major decision to see if something good was going to happen.

Franklin has been with GM since 2008, and when he found out he was among those to be cut, he knew he had little choice but to put his home on the market and take a transfer.

“We just couldn’t chance it. We didn’t want to stick around; we needed to go somewhere with more security,” Franklin said. “We weighed the pros and cons, and the reasons to go outweighed the reasons to stay.”

Franklin and his wife made the move in August to Springhill, Tenn., where he now works on the GMC Acadia and the Cadillac XT5 and XT6.

Franklin’s home in Austintown sold in about six months, but he’s sad to see it go.

“We invested everything in that house; it was a real emotional rollercoaster for a while,” said Franklin. “It was insane. With me, my wife, two kids and my father, it was difficult to find enough space that we could afford.”

Part of the battle was making sure his house sold, and he credits his realtor, who did everything she could to help him transfer.

Local realtor Julie Vugrinovich, who listed Franklin’s home for sale, has significant ties to the GM workers whose homes she is selling.

That’s because her husband, Dennis Vugrinovich, also worked at the plant for more than 20 years, and he, too, has applied for a transfer to Tennessee, Bowling Green, Ky., or Toledo. When the couple gets word, they will be selling their Howland home as well.

“We will move when we know where we are going,” Vugrinovich said. “We don’t want to go. We love our community. I sit on 12 boards. Neither one of us wants to go. Our families are here. Our friends are here. We invested in this community all our lives.

“We have been GM people all my life. My husband has been there since we graduated,” Vugrinovich said last week, noting that Dennis’ father worked there too.

Vugrinovich said she believes the Real Estate market will flood with new listings next month, stemming from GM’s closure.

According to the Warren Area Board of Realtors, there are 189 new January listings in Trumbull County, a 21 percent increase from January 2018. There were 260 new listings in January in Mahoning County, 8 more than the same period a year ago.

Vugrinovich said she already is listing about five homes from local GM workers who are transferring.

“The market is going to flood in another month,” Vugrinovich predicted, days after the Lordstown plant on Wednesday wrapped up production of the Chevy Cruze.

Marlin Palich of Northwood Realty Services, president of the Warren Area Board of Realtors, said he expects the addition of new listings only to help the Real Estate market, due in large part to the housing shortage that has existed locally for some time.

“Anytime something like this occurs, it affects the market. We now have extra properties, but the inventory is still low,” Palich said. “The market has remained moderate. We just hope these houses sell quickly.”

Palich said he believes the market will remain steady and said he has received a decent amount of calls from GM Lordstown workers, particularly looking for relocation assistance.

“We help with relocation. We help these employees move forward and not be tied here,” said Palich, who estimated his company has helped 15 relocated clients.

Both Palich and Fran Cunningham of William Zamarelli Inc. agree employment is the most important factor keeping people in the area.

“With GM closing, not having it here hurts everyone. I’m hoping someone will move in whether it’s a car company or something else. Hopefully, something comes and comes soon; we sure have a lot of people ready to work,” said Cunningham. “I just pray that something comes to employ these people.”

Cunningham said she has assisted with several transfers to Tennessee, Toledo, and Indiana, but it isn’t just GM Lordstown workers leaving.

“A lot (of people) are moving because they are not active here,” Cunningham said. “It’s unfortunate because we have so much to offer.”

Palich said he is remaining optimistic. “The people here are resilient; we will reinvent ourselves,” he said.

Jason Altobelli of Altobelli Real Estate said he also has received calls from GM Lordstown workers about selling their homes, but he is not so convinced the plant’s idling will have as much impact on the market as others are predicting.

He said he also believes many workers will stay in the area.

“We’ve had some relocations, but people seem entrenched in the area. They’re very deeply rooted here,” Altobelli said.

Although there are more new listings in the area than in the previous years, Altobelli said they’re not all GM-related.

“We are all looking for ways to tie this into GM, but historically speaking, now is the time we usually see an increase in inventory. Currently, in total, there are 501 homes for sale in Trumbull County and 719 in Mahoning County,” Altobelli said. “More people like to sell in spring, and there are lots of reasons for why people want to sell their homes.”