COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — If you’re looking to buy a home in Central Ohio, you may be looking for a while.

A new report from Columbus Realtors says the number of homes available in Central Ohio is at an all-time low.

“Inventory in February was certainly something that we’ve never seen before in Columbus Realtors’ history,” said Michael Jones, President of Columbus Realtors

One reason for the unprecedented low? An unprecedented pandemic

“On the existing home side, because of COVID, people are very hesitant to put their homes on the market,” said David Berson, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist at Nationwide. “Put your house up for sale, people come in and look at it usually in order to buy it and people don’t want strangers coming in their homes right now.

For Columbus realtor Ricky Callahan, the hot market has made his job harder.

“It’s definitely a difficult market. We’ve never seen inventory this low probably in the past decade or so,” Callahan said. “It’s extremely stressful. We’re used to playing with a lot more homes for sale so a lot more options for buyers. So as soon as something hits the MLS, it’s going into contract within hours, if not, a day”.

That means more homes than ever are being sold for more than their asking price.

That might not be good for buyers but it is a sign of strength for the Central Ohio economy.

“Columbus is doing very well in terms of it’s recovery from COVID and that means the impact on the housing market, in terms of housing demand and housing price gains, is even stronger here than it is in many other parts of the country,” said Berson.

You might be asking – “why don’t they just build more houses?”

In short, they are.

According to the Building Industry Association of Central Ohio, 11,864 housing permits were obtained by builders in 2020, a 46% increase from 2019 and the highest number since 2005.

But the housing shortage isn’t something that can simply be fixed with new builds.

“New home builders are constrained by the number of lots they have, they’re constrained by the number of workers they have, they’re constrained by high prices for things like lumber,” Berson said. “So even though builders. I think, are going full out right now, they’re limited in how many new units they can bring on the market.”

The housing shortage and rising prices is a problem being seen across the country, meaning the shortage shouldn’t be costing Columbus any prospective new residents.

“It’s not ‘Gee should I move to Columbus or should I move to Indianapolis?’ Prices in Indianapolis are going up basically as quickly as Columbus,” Berson said. “It’s what do you do when you move here. Can you afford to buy or should you wait. I don’t think house prices will come down. I think over the next several years, they’re going to continue to go up but just not quite as quickly as they are right now.”

An increasing number of residents are staying in or moving to apartments while they wait for new homes to be built.

“Some times, they do end up deciding to rent for an additional year or two to see if anything’s going to open up but it’s just a waiting game,” Callahan said. “You have to be on top of things every day, looking for the new inventory that is hitting the market and sometimes I have to even search for stuff that’s not on the market to try to find someone’s needs.”

As the pandemic recovery continues, realtors hope more sellers start too .

“Spring is in the air in Central Ohio so we know that more people will be putting their homes on the market,” Jones said. “We encourage them to do so. It’s a great opportunity to capitalize on your investment and make some money and add some inventory to the market, so we’re looking forward to that this spring.”

“It’s not sustainable. Eventually we need more housing on the market to be sold, for people to buy them,” Berson said. “You know, we’re seeing house prices in the Columbus area going up basically double digit rates and there is no way that is sustainable.”

Although they may be biased, realtors say in a competitive market for buyers, working with them is the best way to secure your next home before someone else does.

“It’s definitely difficult for buyers. They’re having a difficult time finding what they’re looking for or anything in that matter and there’s always multiple offers going on,” Callahan said. “Definitely talk to a local professional. You need a realtor that understands your market and exactly what you’re looking for. Find someone you’re comfortable working with. And then every day, it’s just a search to see what becomes available and making sure you take the time to get in there right away and make a decision if you want to move forward or not.”