Dominic Pollock, still in his work boots, stood on the lawn of a 1960s-era three-bedroom house for sale in the former steel town of Bethlehem, Pa., 60 miles north of Philadelphia. It was listed at $250,000.
“I really, really like it,” Mr. Pollock told his real-estate agent Danny Hazim, a buddy from high school in neighboring Allentown, Pa. Groups of other interested buyers huddled nearby and whispered to their agents in urgent tones, casting sly glances at rivals.
Mr. Pollock, 25 years old, was willing to go above the asking price. He and his fiancée, Brooke Terplan, 26, had made more than 20 offers on houses over nine months. Each time, they were outbid.
The couple had hoped to land a home by their wedding this week and begin a life together. Mr. Pollock lived with his brother, and Ms. Terplan, a labor-and-delivery nurse, lived with her parents.
Like many would-be buyers, they braced for disappointment.