Monday, June 27, 2011

Still a Divided Market

The real estate market is more complicated than it would appear from reading the papers. There are things that are selling, and selling quickly. There are other properties that are hanging around, some without even being shown. This has been true for a while now, but it's not what people expect in a so-called "buyer's market" (read "bad real estate market").

In more traditional renditions of a buyer's market, there are not enough buyers, and so they can bid low on properties, and sellers will have to take low offers if they want to sell. It tends to be true across all segments of the market, from starter homes to mansions. In a seller's market, the opposite occurs: People who want to get a property need to move quickly and bid high, or they will lose to other, more motivated buyers.

This market has aspects of both. Many people have listed their properties a long time ago, and those places have been sitting around. They are often overlooked by agents and buyers, as they can be considered as tired, and usually as overpriced. Other places come on, attract attention right away, and sell quickly, sometimes with multiple offers. What's the difference? Sometimes it's location, or staging, or size. Sometimes there's just a buyer who needs what a seller is selling, and needs it right away. More often, however, it's perceived value. The market--that amorphous body of economic value judgment--rates the property as a good value, and that sparks interest.

All of this makes it difficult to price properties. However, the possibility of multiple bids and early interest means that it's hard to underprice in today's market, as buyers will bid the price up to where it can/should be. It's easy, unfortunately, to overprice. Many sellers look at what's on the market at the time, and place their home in the range that they feel it belongs, without distinguishing between the overpriced inventory and the value properties that are getting all the interest. And that's a big mistake. Look at what's sold, and do it with a clear eye. Then listen to your real estate agent, and get your property into the sold column. Then you can become a buyer, and use all that knowledge to get a great value!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Leading RE

We belong, as many independent real estate firms do, to a network of similar professionals. In our case, it's call Leading RE. When its member firms combine their sales, Leading RE outsells any of the national networks, and its reach extends around the globe. I just spent some time on the website, and the tools available to us far exceed what could be obtained in the pre-web days.

What's the advantage to consumers? For one thing, we can refer people from New Haven to anywhere around the world, and ensure that they receive service at a high level. It's the difference between walking in the door of any professional establishment and having the name of a good person at the other end of the phone. Also, it allows us to coordinate the services on both ends of a move. We can use trusted colleagues in another location, and count on them to keep us informed about what's happening with the purchase or sale in their area. Sometimes that involves bridge loans or changes in moving dates, and it helps to have everyone in the loop.

These things are helpful for agents as well, obviously, but it is their ability to take advantage of the accumulated knowledge base of others in the field that is most useful. Sometimes you just need to avoid reinventing the wheel! In fact, we belong to a much smaller group of large independents, The Leadership Council, about which I've written before. We just started a joint site to post training, advertising, marketing, and various documents which would be interesting for the group to see.

It took a very long time to get our very fractionalized industry to the point where it could share more than basic rules of conduct in common. But it's been worth the wait!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Is Madison, Wisconsin Leading the Way for Us?

As most of you know by now, I belong to a group of large independent real estate companies around the country. Some are in big cities, but most are in smaller cities (although bigger than New Haven or Hartford). For some reason, Madison, Wisconsin seems to be the most like our region. Dave Stark, the owner of Stark Real Estate there, and I have discussed this, and it's likely to have a lot to do with the employment base. They have both the state capitol in Madison, and the University of Wisconsin, and those are the two biggest employers. If you didn't know that before, you weren't watching the state workers picketing the Madison capitol!

Having a lot of non-profit and government workers in a region usually makes the employment situation steadier, as well as the use of commercial space. Universities and governmental bodies think in terms of decades, not months. Also, you don't often have the boom times that you would find in Silicon Valley, say, or Wall Street, or even a smaller place where a large manufacturer might open or expand a facility.

Therefore, I thought it was very good news last week when I received Stark's quarterly mailing. While they had the same horrible first quarter that seemed to prevail everywhere, the recent signs have been encouraging. They see lots of pending activity, and increased interest in real estate. I hope it gets here as fast as a big storm seems to do!

Monday, June 6, 2011

More Reasons to Buy Now

The Wall Street Journal this morning had one of the most positive articles about the current real estate market that I've seen in a long time. They said that, if you take out foreclosures, the real estate prices are really off less than 1 percent from a year ago, suggesting that we are at the bottom of the market. In addition, mortgage rates are near a 50-year low, and the ratio of housing prices to income is over 20 percent better than the fifteen-year average. Although household formation rates have fallen recently, the aging of the baby boomers portends an uptick in home purchases and second home acquisitions over the next number of years. They even went on to say that most people still want to own homes, even discounting or ignoring the investment value, because of control over their environment and access to schools and other amenities. They predict that prices will start to climb soon.

All of this seems to indicate that now is the time to buy. It never pays to try to find the low point at its exact nadir. All indications say that we are now close to that point, and therefore buyers should be rushing out to buy. The article does talk about the new difficulties in qualifying for and obtaining mortgages, but there are many other people who simply aren't buying because they are worried about the future value of their investment. Do those people not worry about the stock market? The bond market? The value of art and antiques? In fact, do they sleep at all?

It seems clear that we need to continue to convince buyers that the time to act is soon. If not today, then later this week or month!