Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

There's not a lot on paper going on, but I can assure you homes are selling! I had a brokers' open today at my lovely Highland Ave home (open Saturday, 12:00 to 2:00 during Winterfest) and everyone was talking about what's selling and what great homes are for sale.

There are currently 117 active listings in the Skaneateles area. This does not include those listings in the Skaneateles School District that the agents, for whatever reason, have listed solely in surrounding towns like Spafford and Sennett. One new listing came on this week: new construction in Butters Farm for the amazing low price of under $400,000. Not large, but a ranch. Interesting.

One home officially has been marked contingent this week, a new listing that came on since the first of the year and was scooped up by a lucky buyer who apparently beat out other offers. Another that was never marked contingent went immediately to pending. Both are in the higher range (above $400,000).

Not a single home closed, leaving us with only two closed properties this year. I checked last year for the same period: 4. The year before: 7. Thinking I was on to something I went back another year: 2. Oh well. But that intrigued me - what kind of years did the numbers suggest? It turns out that Skaneateles closed consistently around the same number of homes: 2007 (103), 2006 (107), 2005 (110). Of course last year was an anomaly - only 66 closed.

So with the number of sales unpublished as yet and the ones I know about, I think we will have a decent year again. It will be interesting to follow and see how we get to the 100 mark. Home sales were up nationally 6.5% last month and because of the low mortgage rates they are expected to continue. Good news for our economy! And for Skaneateles!

Monday, January 26, 2009

How to Sell a House - Part Four - The Visit

Now the Realtor arrives! You've done your best, the house is immaculate, and you have set aside a couple hours without the TV and minimal distractions to speak with a professional. This is an important moment - to go forth and sell or back off and think some more. But if you've done what I suggested up to this point then you will more than likely continue the process.

I can only speak for myself about this part. I know some Realtors come in with the list of what they've sold, tell you what to do and sign you up on the spot. They tell you the price your house will sell for and for the life of me I don't know how they do that. It always seems odd to me that anyone can know, but many Realtors say they do. Not getting that price 99% of the time doesn't seem to faze them.

If you've decided that I am The One, I will tour the house, make suggestions minimally (because after all, you probably have done it already) and listen to your suggestions. If you are willing to get rid of the old refrigerator and buy a new one I will agree. Who wouldn't? When it comes to granite and new bathrooms, numbers must be checked to see if it's worthwhile. Often the time it takes to do a construction job, no matter how worthy, might mean the sale. Waiting until the snow flies is not a good option. But no one sees into the future - all you know are the present conditions.

After touring I will sit with the homeowners and go over the paperwork. I want everyone to know what is being contracted for here. No guarantees, but I promise to do what I say I will. Often there's a timelime - brokers open, public open house, ads in the Journal and the Post-Standard (Sunday and Thursday), post cards to my past, present and future clients and referral agents. Since the RE/MAX office is in Skaneateles we have window displays and a booklet offered to people passing by (especially on Fridays when Doug's has a line out the door!)

The contracts I write are usually for six months, longer if it's land. I say that if my services are not what you want you can withdraw - then I hold myself accountable to make sure I provide excellent service. I can't guarantee a house will sell - I wish I could!

I also offer a home inspection for listings. I think it's important to know if there's anything major that needs correcting now. Repairs always balloon in price in negotiations. Last fall we learned that a roof needed replacing. One potential buyer estimated $15,000, but we were prepared and showed her a $7,000 estimate that the roofer guaranteed for three months. And the best part is if an inspection comes back with only minor adjustments needed. Buyers then feel safe in buying. (Of course the option is always there for them to get their own inspection, and some do. But we then have talking points.)

Part of the paperwork is a sellers' property disclosure which asks wonderful questions like "What is the amperage?" "Are these public or private poles?" "How often do you pump your septic system?" "Is anything buried on your property?" New York State has deemed these three pages, legal size, are necessary. If you do not complete them the buyer receives a $500 credit at closing. Downstate sellers are more often told by their attorneys not to complete them; upstate everyone generally does. The fourth page is additional information - the meat, as it were: "How old is the furnace?" "How much do you pay in utilities?" "What improvements have you made in the past five years?"

The latter is what you, the seller, uses to justify pricing. Homes have increased in value - but how much? Just because you paid $180,000 five years ago does not mean that your home is automatically worth 5% more. Show why it is, what you did..... But here's the rub! Even if you put in $20,000 worth of improvements, that does not automatically mean you will get it back in the sales price. The best thing you can do is list what you did and let the market tell you if it's enough. But list everything!

At the end of the two hours I leave with a plan in hand of how to sell the house. It's not always smooth - in fact, it rarely is, especially in these times. I want my listings to sell in the first month and if it goes beyond that I get impatient, as do most sellers. But we must work together to bring about the sale. By the way - now is an EXCELLENT time to buy!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

All right - so I'm late a day....there was this historic inauguration and I stayed glued to the TV... then wrote an offer, took a listing...little things like that....but I apologize!

There are currently 121 active listings in the Skaneateles area of the multiple listing service. An amazing 10 of them are new this week - well, 8 are brand new, 2 are re-lists. A further breakdown shows three in the village and the rest in the town, with one of these in the Marcellus School District. If you come from outside upstate New York you might be surprised to see this overlap, but it exists everywhere. You could be in Cayuga County, Skaneateles Schools, Town of Sennett and have an Auburn (or Skaneateles) phone exchange.

There were no new sales in either the contingent or pending areas, but thankfully my lovely 11 Onondaga is now officially pended because the commitment came through to everyone. I can say with good conviction that the sellers and buyers and agents involved are thrilled!

We have one new closing and it's a village home that has seen much coming and going. It closed for under the price of its sale not too long ago and almost $30,000 under its assessed value. We now have two closings, year-to-date, but if my level of activity is any indication we will have more and soon.

So - if one of those 121 active homes doesn't appeal to you there are also three multi-families, two in the village and one just outside on the market. It's a great way to buy a home and let someone else help you with the mortgage. Prices range from $200,000 to $300,000.

There are also fifteen condos out there in various stages of construction. You can be on the water for 1.4M or overlooking it for half that price. It's a good way to visit in the summer and have someone else take care of it in the winter. Unless you want to be here and go ice-fishing (shanties are on the lake), ski locally, or skate in Clinton Square in downtown Syracuse under the Christmas Tree.

But if you want to build your dream house you have 89 lots to choose from. Think of that number - a few years ago it was hard to find buildable land. One of the new construction listings today came on at $342,000 for one of those lots. A full four bedrooms, 2.5 baths and two acres, included in the price! Competition is getting stiff!

I hear from everyone that there is movement at last. I know the appraisers are busy - but is it refinancing with these great low, low rates (4.3%!) or new purchases?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Style and Staging

This isn't really part of the "How to Sell a House" series, but it fits in well. I have to write it tonight because of its timeliness, but remember it when we get to that section of the series.

I listed a home this week that is about as close to being staged and decorated as you can get. It's not really staged because the people live there and enjoy the comforts of the home while they readied it for sale.

The difference between this home and a newer home is that the owners took an early 60s split level and transformed the interior, but left the primary structure of the house. To see it from the outside you wouldn't imagine the interior being as warm and inviting as it is. And colorful!

I don't want to describe it and set up either false expectations or diminish the emotional impression it will make on you. Just come and see it on Sunday, 12:00 to 2:00 (the Eagles play at 3:00 - go Donovan!) during the open house.

The basics: 4 bedrooms, 1.5 baths, hardwoods, fireplace, new stainless steel appliances (the refrigerator arrived on Wednesday and the old one will stay for beverages in the garage), 20x40 inground pool, decking and a balcony off the master, about an acre of land, 3 car garage and a short walk to the village. The address is 3862 Highland Ave., off Jewett or New Seneca (Onondaga). The price is $299,000. Pictures can be seen on-line at www.REMAX.com or www.Realtor.com - I love the color explosion!

As I was getting ready to sign in to write this blog yahoo.com spotlighted an article about a study completed at Ohio State. The premise was that touching an object made it more appealing. People bid higher for mugs if they got to hold them. They extrapolated from this that the same phenomenon applies to car-buying ("Hey! Take it out for a test drive...just around the block!") The same can be said for real estate, I'd imagine. From the simple open house to sleep-overs in the house up for sale, people are more likely to purchase the more time they spend in the home.

So come on Sunday - no pressure here! - and hang around a bit. Notice the fresh flowers, the table set for dinner, the warmth (we need it!) of the fire, the sheer comfort of the living room. And please - tell me you read this blog! It will make my day! (Actually, buying the house will make my day even more.....)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

How to Sell a House - Part Three - Preparation

You've done your homework, tentatively selected a Realtor or two, and now you need to get your house ready. If it seems early in the process, you may agree with me that this is an important step after reading what I have in mind.

There are three main categories, to keep it simple.

First, get rid of all that clutter you have around the house. Go through each room and seriously put away or throw out everything you don't use on a daily basis - and even that can be put out of sight. The condition of a home sells the home these days as much (almost) as location and price. This doesn't mean that you have to make decisions about Aunt Elspeth's china cat that she gave you for your communion. Put it away - Home Depot, Lowe's, Crate and Barrel make fine organizers. If you start thinking too hard you will be there forever. Trust me. I have been there and done that.

If this is an estate and there are several people who need to go over things, this method works very well. Nothing gets thrown away - just put away for another day. If you are ready to let it go you can make piles and bags or call in someone like Marlene Gallo (315-480-3792) about whom I've written in the past and she will make it disappear. But it has to go.

If you have to move quickly and can't do it yourself, but you want the items boxed, call me. I have several people who can help with the process. Do not fool yourself into thinking that you will do it eventually or "when we get close." Now is the best time.

Second, while you were de-cluttering you probably saw things that needed to be fixed. The paint needed to be touched up in the foyer, the half bath toilet rattles, the faucet in the basement sprays you but you know how to turn it on so it won't do that. You've known that for twenty years! The new people won't - and when they try it to check the water pressure - whoosh! There's the sale down the rattling toilet! Do the repairs.

Most of what you'll find on your list will be little things because you've taken care of the big ones. But little things add up; it's all in the details. And don't forget the outside - walk around, check the windows and gutters for imbalances, for example. Get rid of that dead bush by the garage. Then make that list.

Call in the various specialists in the next week to get it all done. There's a portion on the listing papers for recent improvements. It's always good to have a long list of things you've done to make the house better. You can add to this and get the repairs out of the way at the same time.

Third, prepare for the Realtor's visit as you would an honored guest. Make the house look as beautiful as possible. This sounds silly, but the Realtor will look at the house with a different eye, a critical eye. Have it cleaned, set the table with the best china, buy fresh flowers, "polish up the handle of the big front door." Watch an episode or two of one of those HGTV shows about staging....I like to see best efforts and then find possible improvements. I hate being the one to bring up the repairs and the clutter. I feel like an old school marm scolding a recalcitrant student.

This sounds like a lengthy process, but it can be done quickly once the decision is made to sell the house. And while you're cleaning out the bookshelves, or dusting in the attic, remember that one sentence I told you to develop that encompasses why you are doing this. Repeat it several times over and over as you sneeze.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

This will be short and sweet....I hope sweet, maybe just simple.

There are currently 108 active listings in the Skaneateles area for single family residences. There were two new ones listed in the past week. One is lake rights in the mid-400s and in the village to boot. The other is my beautiful listing at 1 Ramble Wood, again in the village. Our price is $535,000 for "The Finest in Village Living"! It really is lovely - just the right size and built in 1997. Call for a showing - several have already!

One property was marked contingent this past week. It is new construction outside of the village and listed in the mid-300s. New construction seems to have taken the biggest hit in the past year. Homes are just not selling the way they used to in the good old days despite - or perhaps because of - the new developments. It's not true elsewhere, however. I know Ryan Homes have almost sold out their Country Creek development in Warners. My clients were the second ones to close before Christmas last year and have been followed by over 30 other families. Amazing in this economy!

We do have the first closing of the year - hooray! It's an older home in the town in the low 100s. It's far enough north to be in the Jordan-Elbridge School District, but still the Town of Skaneateles. Where there's one, there's more (I sincerely believe)!

While I write about Elbridge, here's a congratulations: Hourigan's Dairy Farm (where the cows produce the milk you buy through Byrne Dairy) has been named the Farm of the Year by the New York State Agricultural Society. Well done!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

How to Sell a House - Part Two - The Realtor

You've done all your homework - looked on the internet, gone to an open house or two, and thought about what you're doing and why. You are ready to go - or at least close.

It's time to call in a Realtor. I know the draw of doing it yourself - being a For Sale By Owner (FSBO) - and I would have agreed with you before I became a Realtor, but I don't any more. I have seen the difference a professional makes in a transaction. It's not just the sale of the house, but all the nitty-gritty that goes along with it. In the business the thought is that only 25% of the entire sale is the finding/marketing of the home. There is so much more.

And welcome to New York! We have paperwork and more paperwork, attorneys for everyone and rules and regulations. You need someone who can cut through it all, direct traffic as it were. Some people who have had bad experiences never recommend the ancillary personnel - the mortgage person, the inspector, attorneys. I do - because I have had bad experiences by not recommending anyone. And that knowledge is wrapped up in my service to you, the homeowner.

How do you find someone competent to handle your sale? Choose me and you don't have to worry about that...sorry, I had to say it. I am proud of what I've learned and how I conduct my business and I have the references to show for it. But if you don't want me....sigh....then -

Talk to friends. We had an interesting set of statistics that just came out yesterday. At RE/MAX, the vast majority of clients come from friends and past clients. If you know someone who sold a home or bought one in the past year, ask that person about their experience.

I think the most important skill a Realtor should have is communication. Without that, the process falls apart. If you call your Realtor, I believe that call should be answered within a couple hours. I further believe that the Realtor should be pro-active - calling you to inform you of progress or the lack thereof. How often depends on the sale and the property. Certainly in the beginning until everyone trusts that phone calls will be returned and strategy will be discussed the calls or e-mails should be daily. There's a lot to do. But you have every right to expect this, I firmly believe.

Next you have the right to ask about experience. How much has the person worked in the field? When I first started out I knew very little, but of course I thought I knew a lot. I was lucky - I sold the first house I ever showed. But I needed help and was aided by the other people in the office. My clients caught on soon that "they were my first," as they said, but we persevered and fought off a multiple offer.

At RE/MAX 95% of the agents are professional. By that I mean that they are not new to the profession, they have worked elsewhere and work full-time at real estate. Other companies make it possible financially to be part of an agency but sell only one house, if that, a year. You need to answer your own question - Do I want a part-time or full-time real estate agent to handle my sale? If course part-time and new Realtors also have their plusses - they may have more time for you, may be "hungrier" than others...it's all up to you and your level of comfort.

Primarily it is comfort that you must feel. It is a process that could take a while given the present market and your own goals. You need to sense confidence in the person to get the job done. You also need to be willing to engage in a business relationship. You are hiring this person. If you cringe every time the Realtor calls - that's not good! You are turning over your home to the care of this person. Think long and hard if you want him or her in your home for extended periods of time.

Years ago at the Waldorf School in Saratoga I learned about a philsophy that suggested that we treat each other as if we will have to spend eternity with them. I believe that if the agent to homeowner relationship is to succeed, the concept of eternity can be the remainder of our lives. It's not just a sale, a transaction, when a house is sold. It's not a two hour purchase of a refrigerator or even a car. It's a process, long or short, that can be wonderful but will certainly have its bumps along the way. You have to be willing to work with the person you hire, good times and bad.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

I thought as I started researching this afternoon that interesting information for this update would be minimal. However, I should have consulted my own busy past couple of days - two listing appointments, one commitment letter (hooray!), a rental, and a sale. Great start to the new year!

There are currently only (I love "only!") 107 listings in the Skaneateles area. Many probably expired at the end of the year - a logical endpoint - and haven't yet returned to the market. The one new property that came on is a magnificent waterfront home priced under 2 million.

Just because it's winter, don't think that waterfront doesn't sell! There are three new properties marked contingent, all with some form of lake access. They range from the list price of $300,000 to under 2 million. Some have been on years, the middle-priced one only months. But again, it looks as if waterfront will have another great year.

There was a late addition to the closed properties for 2008. Again, the news is all about pricing.
It sold for 65% of its original list price, many months after it first came on the market.

A few facts to start the new year update off on a positive note: The median price of a home in Skaneateles in the active market is $450,000. There are 34 waterfront listings contained in the total of 107. The median waterfront price is 1.3M. The non-waterfront median is $335,000.

I'll check these facts as the year goes by, but I do believe this will be a better year for Skaneateles.

Monday, January 5, 2009

How to Sell a House - Part One

First, do your homework. It's all about preparation, some of it financial but a lot of it is motivational.

Why are you selling? Sit down and think about it. If it takes two seconds (you've been transferred to the North Pole and you leave Monday) then so be it. If it's for other reasons - down-sizing, a better home, because you're tired of it - they will all play into your motivation to sell. And they will come back and influence what you do and how you do it. So stretch out on the couch or sit at the kitchen table and write down exactly why you are selling. Make a list if need be. But know why you are doing this. Hone it into a simple sentence that will become your mantra over the long months ahead.

This is a process and preparation is key. You want to be fully informed so that when the house goes on the market and suddenly a buyer appears you are not thrown into panic. Or as the months stretch out you can reflect that you did the work initially and something else is playing into the equation.

After you know what you are doing, go and see what everyone else is doing. Check out a couple open houses if you have the time. You can be honest - you are seeing how the house is presented because you - or a good friend - is thinking about putting a house on the market. I never see it as an intrusion. I get to meet sellers this way and frankly, sellers have friends who buy properties. If you don't want to be hounded by Realtors - and some will - go with some loose explanation. But please don't pretend to be interested in buying the house unless you really are. You will learn as a seller how deflating it is to have people come to an open house and pretend to have an interest when they don't. Honesty is always the best policy. Do the sellers a favor - compliment something that you truly find attractive in the house; it pays for your presence.

Check the newpapers. The Post-Standard lists sales on Sunday for the different areas. Again, if you have enough time, keep that section for a few weeks to get a sense of what is happening. It's not 100% accurate - this week a condo in Marcellus was included under Skaneateles, for example. But it does show trends.

Look around the neighborhood. What has sold recently or what is still sitting, not selling. Think about it dispassionately - would you live here if you had the choice again? Look at things differently than you do every day. Is the new sewage treatment plant moving in a block away? You've always given that old guy with the 27 cats a pass, but would you if you were thinking about buying on this street? When you moved in Miss Lavender kept her roses pruned, but since she left this world the gardens have been paved over. How does this impact your sale?

Get on the internet. There's a world of information out there, from www.ongov.net which gives you property information to www.Realtor.com or www.REMAX.com. And don't forget the blogs!

So now you've decided to go ahead. You want to sell your house because 5 bedrooms and 3 full baths is too much to keep up. You know that other homes are not moving as quickly as you want them to, but you've seen how they were readied for the open house and you know you can do better. You kind of liked that condo you saw listed in the paper, but there are 10 more just like it. Good job! You've done a great deal of homework!

Friday, January 2, 2009

How to Sell a House - Introduction

That title sounds pretentious, doesn't it? I have to admit that I don't have the magic wand that makes all houses sell, but I have worked well and successfully in the business for a number of years and I know what seems to work most of the time. Some of it I've already laid out, but starting in the new year - Happy New Year, by the way! - I plan to be more organized. Part of that is a series on selling and buying homes. I'll still write the Skaneateles Real Estate Weekly Update, usually on Tuesday, and an occasional House of the Week, but I resolved to write more blogs. This is one way to accomplish that goal. Not to mention, I hope, helping prospective sellers and buyers.

One word of caution: these are my opinions, and often they will go against the grain of the norm. They are not RE/MAX's words of wisdom or the Skaneateles Office's way of doing business, they are solely mine. They are also no guarantee of sales - not at all! The opinions are honed from my experience and the way I like to do business. Period.

I came to real estate as a second career after education. I would have preferred to be a writer with a ton of popular books like Stephen King or John Grisham or Dick Francis with an occasional Great American Novel thrown in. This was not to be - Life took me elsewhere. But in going elsewhere I gained perspective and some skills.

I also gained the desire to work in this marvelous entrepreneurial career. I came at it hungry - for money, for reputation, for independence. I switched from Gallinger to RE/MAX three years ago today to give me more of those things I wanted. I also received the joy of meeting people, something I hadn't expected.

As we enter the new year I have several new listings coming on the market, which is why I chose to start with selling a house rather than buying. It's also a good time for potential sellers to work on their homes, make critical decisions, see their way through the year. When you sell a house you want to do it quickly so your entire year isn't given over to the sale and the upheaval. Now is a good time to start the process.

Please follow along with me wherever this goes. I've planned out some, but not all. This was meant to be Part One and it evolved into the Introduction instead. Feel free to comment on what you like, what you don't like, and share your own ideas.