Real Estate

Tighter market means harder work for agents

Sold house
Sold house Getty Images/iStockphoto

RALEIGH — Slow market. Slow business. Slow sales. Time to sit back and chill? Not even close. Many Triangle real estate agents are working harder than ever.

“We’re out there working,” declares Ed Willer, a Raleigh agent who has been through the booms and busts for more than three decades.

“It’s not like the old days. When we make an offer now, we may have to go back a half dozen times to get a deal,” he says.

Realtors Deborah Nance of Real Living Pittman Properties of Wake Forest and Fair Pickel, a broker with Fonville Morisey Realty in Raleigh, have had to expand their vocabularies and knowledge about their trade, too.

“Short sale,” when the sale price of a home is below the mortgage still owed by the seller, is a familiar term today.

Trades are less well known but Jim Allen, president of the Jim Allen Group with Coldwell Banker Howard Perry and Walston, says, “I didn’t even know what a trade was until 2008. Now, we’ve done 60 in the past three years.”

Brokers such as Raleigh’s Joe Hodge of Hodge & Kittrell, Sotheby’s International, are learning more about banking than ever.

“The scrutiny that borrowers go through today — documentation, details, etc., have locked the system up,” Hodge says. “To get from contract to closing is excruciatingly difficult.”

When he gets teased by his business friends about not having enough to do, Willer laughs and points to figures published by Stacey Anfindsen in his Triangle Area Residential Realty Report.

“To sell a house today, it takes on average 30 showings,” says Willer, 

a broker with Prudential York Simpson Underwood.

Nance, in real estate since 1979, remembers the boom years in the 1990s and the mid-years between 2001-2010. There were stories about sellers rejecting a list price offer because he knew there were three more buyers waiting in his driveway to make an offer.

“We had an abundance of buyers. Houses didn’t stay on the market long. There were not the lender issues, and we didn’t have to worry about appraisals as much,” Nance recalls.

Pickel adds, “We have houses that would have flown out the door, that would have sold in a week, but now it takes a lot more marketing and more showings.”

Anfindsen’s data support the agents’ experiences:

In 2004, a year when the economy was growing out of the eight-month, 2001 recession, there were 29,758 sales and 651,054 showings for an average 21.8 showings per sale.

In 2006, the peak years for sales, there were 36,409 homes sold and 876,438 showings. That’s an average 24 showings for a home sale.

In 2010, the most recent year for complete 12-month figures, there were 20,643 sales and 634,228 showings. That’s about 31 showings per home sale.

That’s down from the 2009 figure, which was 32 showings for every sale. Willer’s own record is 71 showings for a home that required him to negotiate a deal between three lienholders.

Another factor in getting a contract is the market price on a home. “I’ve tripled my counseling time with sellers,” says Hodge. “They feel that their house is better than comparable sales.”

Jim Allen, whose group is the top producer in the Triangle, selling over $20 million a month in September, October and November, agrees that trust is a requirement to be successful in today’s market.

“They must trust me,” he says. “I have to show them proof that the tax valuations in 2008 are not true today. It’s pretty tough, and not everyone accepts it well.”

But Allen is upbeat about the market. He says, “I advertise in the newspaper and pump up my advertising. For us, [in 2011] the market has been back to normal. We’ve pretty much burned through all the lots that were on the market.”

Anfindsen, an appraiser with Robert M. Birch and the incoming president of the Raleigh Regional Association of Realtors, says inventory is at 2005-2006 levels.

He believes that too many buyers and lenders thought home values would rise indefinitely. “Good agents today will articulate the traditional reasons why a customer should buy a house, not that it’s a better investment than the stock market,” he advises.

Those reasons include shelter, ownership in an asset and putting down roots in a community.

Allen is bullish more than most on 2012 sales. Pickel cautiously says she’s optimistic and Nance sees increased activity for the new year.

They all point to record low interest rates and average rent prices that are now higher than average mortgage payments.

For Ed Willer, his plan is simple: “Work harder.”