Wednesday, April 28, 2010

First Quarter Market Statistics

Our crack internet team has just finished compiling statistics on sales and prices in our region for the first quarter of 2010. Yes, it's true--the market is way up. Sales in New Haven county are up 34% over the same period last year. Prices fell 7%, which was less than they had been falling, and also reflects a shift in the mix of what's selling. The first-time homebuyer tax credit has the greatest impact in the lower price ranges, and that will make a difference. Also, the upper end of the market tends to be the most discretionary, and the lack of consumer confidence has had those buyers continuing to sit on the fence. If you'd like to see the full report, go to, and pull down the Services tab to access Market Reports.

I just got back from a meeting of some of my peers, the presidents of other large independent real estate firms. Around the country, the news is much the same. Last year was so bad that we're all feeling better. We're all worried about what will happen when the tax credit disappears on Saturday, but we all agree that this second round has not been as effective in spurring sales. All of us have slashed costs, but know that a healthy company cannot survive in the long run by cutting expenses instead of increasing sales. We are fortunate here compared to markets like Reno, but even my friends there are seeing an improvement. Since 67% of their sales are foreclosures and short sales, that wouldn't be hard! We continue to be encouraged that independent firms are doing so well in competition with the franchises, and know that our ability to move quickly and make decisions has helped us immensely in this downturn. We were meeting in Davenport, Iowa, where the market never spiked the way ours did, so the landing has been much softer. There is a lot of activity there, and the average home price in some offices is about $90,000. That would be quite a bargain here!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Markets and Marathons

This posting is a little delayed, since I ran the Boston Marathon on Monday. The relief of having it over, plus the exhaustion, kept me from writing sooner! Every time I run a marathon, I think about how much it is like the real estate business. The basic foundation is the preparation. You have to put in the hours. Some naturally talented people seem exempt, and can run or sell without spending a lot of time getting ready, but the general rule is that you reap what you sow. The long 20-mile runs, or the late nights at the computer, pay off in the future. You can't just wing it.

There's also some amount of luck involved. Performance in a marathon depends greatly on the conditions of the day and the course--temperature, elevation changes, wind, and congestion on the course. It also matters how you feel on a given day, and you won't really know how you will do until you get to 20 miles or even beyond. Success in real estate depends on market conditions--we don't control interest rates, bank policies, political postions, or consumer confidence. Local economic factors, such as unemployment rates or business expansions, are also variables we can't change.

However, in both marathons and real estate markets, we can do the best with what we have. We have the same conditions as everyone else on the course, and we can outperform others with training and perseverance. We can be mentally tougher, and we can dig deeper. As the marathon really starts at 20 miles, salesmanship starts when the client says no.

Finding a way to succeed is crucial in both endeavors, but there's at least one difference: It doesn't hurt to walk when you finish selling a piece of real estate!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Good News All Around

We just finished our annual meeting at the New Haven Country Club. It's a beautiful day, and it was a great time to reflect on the past year and celebrate the recovering market! We sign many signs that real estate sales are improving; in fact, our first quarter numbers show a 34% increase in sales throughout our region, and a 15% increase in listings. We are proud to say that we made money last year, although we are looking forward to having it be a little easier this year. Consumers seem to be coming out of hibernation, and activity is definitely up.

Awards were given to our 20-year associates, and to our Chairman's Circle of top producers. Even in a challenging environment, the best agents always find a way to be successful, and we honored their accomplishments. Longevity is also important to us as a company, since we are a family business in its second generation.

We reviewed the many tools that our company has for marketing and sales. We have a first-class website, and are endeavoring to improve individual web pages. is a great resource, and we pay for enhanced service, so we emphasized those advantages, along with real estate tours (now uploaded to YouTube as well). Our agents also have access to a wonderful listing presentation service called Toolkit, as well as Xpress Docs, an online provider of marketing materials.

By focusing on these basic offerings, we have enhanced the service we provide for our clients. We are well-positioned to catch the recovery wave!

Thursday, April 8, 2010


It stands to reason that there will be many more people looking to rent, if the wave of short sales and foreclosures continues. In fact, it seems hard to believe that in some suburban places there will ever be enough homes for rent. Still, there are houses out there that owners, for many reasons, choose to lease out.

If you have a home you wish to rent, what should you do? First of all, consider leaving some basic furnishings, if the renter needs them. Often corporate transferees rent for a while, before their families arrive. They usually make wonderful tenants, since they typically go home every weekend and work long hours when they are here. Secondly, be open to pets if possible. I never realized how many people have pets! It's certainly understandable that an owner wouldn't want animals, but it is possibly the biggest reason that tenants reject certain options. Finally, be as generous as possible with your appliances. It is a hardship to rent a home without laundry facilities, particularly in a town or region where there are few if any laundromats.

Most people who rent out homes over long periods of time have some story of the "renter from hell", just as most long-term tenants have encountered the "landlord from hell". However, there are many, many examples of positive experiences, and a little flexibility can go a long way.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Stimulus Needs Stimulating

Last year, when the first-time homebuyers incentive plan was introduced by the Federal government, there was a clear uptick in the number of buyers in the market. This year, the plan was reintroduced, along with a second incentive for existing homebuyers. It was obviously another, supposedly stronger, attempt to increase home sales.

Well, this time it doesn't seem to be working. Most brokers, including the one I spoke to this week in Phoenix, don't see the results. There could be more than one reason for this. First of all, most things like this--including big sales at stores--work better when people think that they are limited in time. If they think that deals will be offered again or extended, they are not as likely to move quickly. Secondly, it keeps getting harder for new buyers to get mortgages. This means that there may be buyers out there who want to buy, but who cannot qualify with the higher FICO scores now required. That last point is not necessarily a bad thing. If we can just stop and remember how we got into this mess, we will want banks to think twice before loaning to those who may not be able to repay.

I believe that there is also a fundamental flaw in the stimulus package, however. The government is trying to push demand from first-time buyers, who comprise the one group who will buy in almost any situation where they can. After all, they haven't bought homes at lower prices or with lower mortgage rates. They are generally buying because of changing life circumstances, and graduations, marriages, and babies happen regardless of the economy. Also, there are, in the end, only so many new households being formed. It might have made more sense to give the incentive to folks who didn't have the same motivation to move. After all, isn't it a little like giving a car price break only to teens?