Saturday, February 28, 2009
I can compare this part of the process with throwing a party. You wait for the guests to arrive, uncertain whether they got the invitation ("It's a great house!") or even want to come. If there are no showings immediately, it generally means there are no buyers who have been waiting breathlessly for a home like yours to come on the market. Or they can't get here right away.
When properties on the lake were hot commodities and only three or four came on each year, agents had lists of people to call when one did. Listing agents called their buyers first but if they worked for the sellers assiduously they let all the other agencies know at the same time. The more people looking and eager to buy, the better offer the seller was likely to get.
These days are different. We have so many homes on the market - new construction, waterfront, town and village - in all price ranges and so few buyers that the "fly in this weekend or you'll miss it" market is gone. So sellers wait.
The rule of thumb had been that it took 8 to 12 showings prior to receiving an offer. These did not count open houses, but were true appointment showings. It was always so helpful for sellers to hear that, because rejection is hard. Returning to the party analogy - guests arrived, stayed a while, but chose not to hang out.
The waiting these days is not so much for the offer, but for the buyers. My listings are still being shown, my open houses attended, but the eagerness is gone. My sellers look for ways to bring people in, but unless the agents have qualified buyers it doesn't do much good to offer incentives.
But keep your spirits up, sellers! The house must be clean every day, the clutter able to be hidden at a moment's notice, the dog bathed and groomed, and it's not such a bad way to live. I remember one client saying that even if the house didn't sell in the 8 months it was on the market, at least it was clean for 8 months.
And remember - a great deal of it is in your control. Any house will sell if the price is low enough. If a buyer is approved for $200,000 and a house that previously (pre-Recession) would have sold for $350,000 moves into that price range, my guess is that it would sell.
Old joke: A man sees an ad in the paper for a 3600 sf house for $10. He believes it must be a mistake, but goes to the house anyway. "No mistake," says the woman who answers the door. "My husband ran away with his secretary and told me to sell the house and send him half of the proceeds. There's a Porsche in the garage - you can have it for $5!"
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
I spent the day finishing up odds and ends of real estate in the morning. Jolanta cleaned a house for me - amazing how dirty an empty place can get! I tried to straighten out a couple rentals - March 1st is on Sunday and I have people moving in and hopefully the old people moving out, checks clearing, and smooth sailing up ahead. I sent out postcards about three lots I have listed - hey! you can build for under $300,000 easily in Skaneateles or live on the water for a million with room in the stable for your horses.
I took Boo for a walk. Yes, the same Boo who ate my bread from Rosalie's last night. He needed to run it off because Bob left early this morning to supervise his community project at the Samaritan Center in Syracuse and didn't have time to walk him. We climbed the hill to the cornfields and walked across them and back. The sun on the snow gave me a sunburn which I loved and needed. We returned to our property just as a snowmobiler shot down from the upper fields and raced across what will soon be only mud. Boo preferred eating deer poop to chasing him.
I mailed my postcards and said hello to Jim at the Elbridge post offce. He always makes me feel welcome and part of the community. Then I went on to Burritt's Cafe in Weedsport, getting in just before Wednesday closing at 4:00.
If you haven't been there, take the time and go. Check it out at www.Burritts.com. It's a coffee house and music venue, home to groups like "The Salt Potatoes." Darryl and Sherry took an old building and converted it. The brick walls alone are worth the trip; the ladies' bathroom is decorated with Patience Brewster prints and feather boas. I have the building across the street (North Seneca Street, a four unit) listed, but I go to Burritt's for a friendly hello and Ithaca Bakery bagels. Not to mention an occasional latte.
Today Darryl and I talked a bit about the market, what was happening and not happening. He told me that a friend had walked in and when Darryl asked him how it was going, he said "Keep your head down, keep moving." I thought I'd pass it on because it captures the essence of what we need to do.
My favorite internet reader sent another link: http://www.realtor.org/RMODaily.nsf/pages/New2009022407. Syracuse now ranks #6 in affordable homes in the country. None of the other cities in New York made the rankings. I only wish that the affordability extended outwards from the city. But isn't it great that a young couple can still afford to buy a home here?
The times are changing and will change us, but the simple pleasures of life - a walk with a dog, a friendly greeting, a cup of good coffee - will continue, as long as you...."Keep your head down, keep moving."
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
There are currently 118 active listings in the Skaneateles area. Four new ones came on, actually two re-lists (village and lake rights) and two new ones (waterfront and lake rights). The numbers are staying down, but they will increase as the spring arrives - whenever that is!
There are 6 marked as contingent with one new one - village, listed over 6 months. It's as if you have to "do your time" before you get a sale.
Eight homes have closed so far this year, three new ones since I last wrote. It's a good mix - town, village and lake rights. Amazingly it's the lake rights one that's the lowest and the village home was the most reduced, more than a third off its original price. Pricing any home is difficult these days!
Last year nine homes had closed. The average was approximately $550,000. This year the average is somewhere around $200,000. I am sure that will climb as well.
And Syracuse itself is in the top 20 real estate markets in the country, and the only one in New York State in the top 20. Alabama and Texas have quite a few communities in good shape, but only Syracuse has shown an increase of 25% in the price of homes in the past five years to make this mark. Check it out: http://blog.syracuse.com/news/2009/02/housingappreciation.pdf. Thank you to another faithful reader for providing us with this link!
Now - SU has started playing, Boo apparently has snagged my slice of bread, and President Obama will speak in less than an hour. But we are updated for another week!
Saturday, February 21, 2009
In our Skaneateles market, the Brokers' Open is usually one of the first things that occurs after putting the house in the multiple listing service. By no means does it have to happen at any time, and each agent treats it differently.
I like to have a Brokers' Open early because statistics show that it is usually another agent who sells the house. The internet is creeping up, but in the current market with people engaging buyer's agents they are the most important element.
Our homes here in Skaneateles are open on Tuesdays, generally 12:00 to 2:00. If I have a home down the lake I like to make it later to allow for people to get there and not need to rush elsewhere. But agents plan to see opens early Tuesday afternoon, so there's no reason to change that.
The house should be prepared again as if for royalty and first impressions. We can't always command the sun to shine, but if the house is warm and inviting it won't matter as much. I like to see the table set for company, fresh flowers if possible in the front hall and elsewhere, a good scented candle burning in the bathroom. Everything needs to be dusted - especially if the sun is going to grace us with its light! In any case, lights need to be turned on to their maximum brightness. Light the fire in the fireplace, put away the kitty litter pans, wash the dishes, make the beds, clean the closets. You never know where anyone will look - and the people coming are professional "lookers."
When I present a Brokers' Open I usually have something light to eat available. In the summer I always have water bottles; in the winter I like to have cookies or chocolate. I don't do the fancy meals that some agents do. It's not my forte and makes me more stressed than they are worth. I have started offering a chance for a gift certificate to either a Skaneateles eatery or store. Leave your card and be eligible for the prize. After the open the owner picks a card from a hat and I deliver the gift certificate. I don't know if this brings more agents, but I like to show my appreciation for them coming to see the house I have open.
Depending on the day and what else is happening - too many houses on open or too few, blizzard or heat wave - generally between 5 and 25 agents come to see the house. They run in and out, up and down the stairs, say hello, leave their cards, and go on to the next. Often they offer opinions about the other houses they've seen that day. Some come with buyers in tow.
Our lives are often very involved with clients and not as much with each other. I enjoy opens because it gives me a chance to see everyone. I also value their opinions on the house and I'm always pleased when they like it. An agent who likes a house is more apt to remember it and seek out a client for it.
After two hours they are all gone. But the occasional comment is excellent feedback to pass on to the sellers. No matter how critical it is, I believe it's important to make the seller aware of the issue in a manner the seller can hear. The agent will certainly tell others, so the seller shouldn't be the last to know.
And there it is - your house is launched!
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Tuesday morning I spent a fact-filled class listening to Greg Booth from Pillar to Post home inspection. His first hour was about how to spot and what would be inside a "grow home." This is a home which is rented for the sole purpose of growing marijuana. I learned a lot, but I'm not sure it's applicable to anything I will come across in Skaneateles - but you never know.
The second hour Greg spoke about keeping water outside the home. Most of it I already knew - how to create drainage around the house by digging a trench, putting in piping, and stopping the water before it gets there. There were a few facts I will pass on:
- Extensions for the gutters should be 60 inches away from the building
- "Get the Fog Out" is a service that gets interior moisture out of old windows and seals them for about $75 per window (cheaper than buying new windows!)
- Put insulation between joists at the edge of the basement and repayment will happen in a month
- Try cheap methods - gutters, epoxy in cracks - before trying more expensive ones
The third hour was what I took the class for - mold and all that means. I have two houses, one my clients are purchasing and another that has been cited as having some mold residue, and I wanted to know definitively more about it.
Greg broke the discussion into 5 parts, with the overarching title of Health Hazards in the Home.
- Mold - the same as mildew; mold is usually dormant unless moisture is added, so when you see black stuff and there's no moisture just get rid of it. He showed really bad staining on sheetrock that would scare me but didn't phase him. He said he wouldn't even replace the sheetrock, just clean it. Naturally there are people who are extremely sensitive and more care is needed for them. (One of my classmates said she wished another inspector had been as casual - the other one scared people into NOT buying a home.) Also "There is no such thing as a mold-free environment," according to Greg.
- Efflorescence is the white stuff you see on floors. This is not mold but it does indicate moisture.
- Formaldehyde insulation (UFFI) has no correlation with health hazards.
- Asbestos needs only to be encapsulated so it doesn't fly free in the air. The only time it's a health hazard is if you have long time exposure and it's airborne. Cover it up!
- Lead based paint is in houses built before 1978. Unless it is formally removed by a lead abatement team it will be there. Do not let children (or anyone) chew on paint chips (supposedly they taste sweet). If you have an older home and paint chips regularly clean it up with a vacuum regularly. The question came up about the lead piping in the city's water system - that's a source of lead. No one had an answer for that.
I enjoyed the class - the time went quickly and it is always good to meet other Realtors. Too often we talk to each other but never have a chance to get together informally, especially among companies. At the end of the morning I had even found a rental that wasn't on the market!
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
There are currently 120 active single family homes listings in the Skaneateles area. The two new listings that came on are actually re-lists, a waterfront and an outside of the village home. This makes sense because there were no open houses today, the usual day for brokers' opens. Last week I believe there were only two.
We have two new properties marked as "K" for contingent. One had been on for almost a year, while the other came through three different agents/brokerages and several price changes. The last price was about 30% under the original list price. I understand this was not the final reduction, however. We'll see when it closes.
There are 12 homes marked "P" for pending, just waiting to close. Two are headed there next week and I can't wait! The publishing of the closings will take a couple weeks for the corporate offices to run through the paperwork and put it in the computer. The closings will certainly help Skaneateles statistics.
We have 5 closed listings for the year so far. Two of these are in the Jordan-Elbridge school district. All closed between $114,000 and $230,000. People are taking advantage of good deals and buying in to the area. None are waterfront or new construction. Each was sold by a different brokerage firm.
We have our work cut out for us this year. In the Sunday Post-Standard they've begun highlighting the five most expensive properties to close in Onondaga County. The range is usually $400,000 to $500,000 for the most to the mid-$200,000s for the fifth most expensive. Since the majority of properties listed in Skaneateles are above $200,000 we will most likely have the most expensive. Remember, the average price is still above $500,000!
Monday, February 16, 2009
There are some Realtors who will tell you the price at which your home will sell. I am not one of them, I have no crystal ball, I really don't know. I can show you what other houses closed for, but in a market like Skaneateles almost every house is unique. You absolutely cannot figure out square footage and say how much it is worth. How do you compare an immaculate turn of the century home on an acre in the village with a run-down cape with no yard? There is no way.
Appraisers like to look at the last six months of transactions. Skaneateles - the town, the village, the area - had only 66 sales all of last year. What are the chances that a home similar to yours sold during that period? And was it only one home? We all know how much the economy has changed in the past six months. How can you ever know?
"Actions speak louder than words"is one of my favorite sayings. These days give yourself a range. You can be aggressive or play the waiting game. The market will tell you - those "actions" I alluded to earlier.
If after 4 weeks there has been little or no action on your home it is time to reduce the price. This is a rule of thumb. If after 8 to 12 showings there is no offer, something has to change, and at least you have feedback (hopefully) from the agents who showed it. None of this helps at the beginning, but if you fall in love with a number and refuse to budge despite what the market tells you, you may be there a while.
A very good friend wanted to move to Skaneateles so her daughter could enter the school system young enough to feel part of the district. Her mother needed to leave her own home and move in with my friend and her family. Time was, truly, of the essence.
She found a home in Skaneateles and moved up here from around the City. The daughter entered school, the mother was safe and secure in her in-law apartment, and the husband took a job in the area. Still they owned two houses down there. My friend sold them rapidly and I was amazed. "How?"
"We priced the homes below the others to start. When they didn't sell, we reduced them, and kept reducing until we got offers." The process took about 4 months, if I remember correctly. And she tells me that 18 months later she can return to the neighborhood and see homes that were on the market then still there at a lower price than for what she sold.
Moral: The house sold and she moved on with her life. She now has one mortgage, one set of taxes, and the important people - the mother and daughter - have new lives. They aren't living in limbo.
I hear people say "But I won't give it away!" I hear it a lot. The reality these days unfortunately is that you probably won't recoup all that you put into a house - the floors, the windows, the kitchen appliances - but you have to have things in a good enough condition that the house will sell. It's a real Catch-22.
So why not "give it away?" Why not price it so aggressively that people grab it within two weeks? It's still 60 days to closing after that, so you will still pay mortgage, taxes, insurance and utilities - but rather 60 days than 6 to 10 months. My guess is that the "give-away" price will not be that bad. Move on - if you're buying somewhere else right now, you are in a buyers' market.
I also hear, "I want to try it at this price - I can always go down, but I can't go up...." The people who are looking in your price range are looking now. If you are too high, they will stop looking. They will either wait until you do come down, or move on to the one that is priced aggressively. Just as you only get one chance to make a first impression, your house only gets one chance.
The longer a house stays on the market, the lower the offers will be. People assume that it has been shown daily and after 180 days 180 people have rejected it. Why should they be the ones to stick their necks out and buy it?
"I can't sell it for less - I owe too much!" That may be true, and in that case, be prepared to wait until the market catches up to your price. That used to happen in Skaneateles - after two years a house priced 10% over what it should be looked like a bargain. But not now. The market is static, if not decreasing. If your home is worth a great deal, say a million dollars, you can afford to pay the taxes and wait. With other homes, you can't. Sometimes it's necessary to take a loss. Life is too short.
So much in the end depends on your perspective, your philosophy about money, your relationship to it. I have some friends who simply move on and are proud of their ability to do so. "We couldn't get what we would have liked for the old house so we let it go, but how about this new home - isn't it great?"
In the end you will balance the money vs. the life choices - but please, in this difficult economic time - think about pricing to sell.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
What I want to do here is make each "chapter" (and I do feel as if I'm writing a book) shorter and more concise. That's difficult for me, and one of the reasons I enjoy blogging is because I have a natural stream of consciousness style. If I leave things out, which I will have to do or never get it written, feel free to e-mail me and ask for more information.
Now on to your decisions as a home-seller. Once you've signed all the paperwork and agreed to the starting date, there are still things that influence the sale of the home, some of which need to be thought out prior to the listing.
Question: Do I sell it with the furniture? If you are down-sizing, that lovely huge cherry wardrobe you purchased years ago at Ethan Allen looks too large to move and will take up the entire bedroom in your new condo. But it still looks fantastic, you valued it and kept it beautiful, it fits so well in that corner...do you include it with the house?
Discussion (not the definitive answer!): I have seen furniture - the entire household - sold with the house a few times. As a Realtor, I am not in the furniture business. I can't put a value on anything, but I know people purchasing a house often feel they are purchasing the style which comes from a great decorator. Take away the furnishings...the house looks different. And beware! Any house you buy with furniture in it will look vastly different without it. But as one agent said to me, "It's used furniture!"
There is a value to turnkey homes. This usually happens in a summer home when people want to get into it and not spend a great deal of time furnishing it immediately. Fifteen people are coming for the lighting of the lake on the 3rd and you close on the 2nd. It's good to keep those five beds, the dishes, the grill on the deck in that case. But my feeling is that increasing the price of the home to cover the furnishings does not make the home worth more. And trust me - if buyers want things to stay they will ask. I believe in options - offer the furnishings to make the house more attractive to someone who wants it but be prepared to remove everything if they don't. And remember also - minimal furniture makes a house show better.
Question: Do I offer to hold the mortgage? I could use the steady income, and if anything happens I can always take back my property. If they put a lot down then that's assurance they won't walk away and I would keep the down payment if they do. Banks aren't offering much in savings accounts, I could give an attractive rate, where am I going to put the money after the sale anyway? Might help with capital gains.....
Discussion: Here come Joshua and Delilah, a lovely young professional couple from Oneonta. They want to buy your home. You offer the mortgage, but want to make sure they are qualified, so you check their credit. It's good, but you can't check as thoroughly as a bank does - so you may never know for certain if they are qualified. Do you really want to think about this at 4 AM in two years when their payment is late? What if they do walk out, having had a party to end all parties and burned the deck on that grill you left them? How easy is it really to get your property back when they've gone to the Cayman Islands to open a hot dog stand?
Again, there is a time and place for everything. If you are selling land, often "holding paper" is one of the few ways people can buy the land. I have tried for years to find a consistent mortgage broker who will mortgage land and so far, I've been unsuccessful. Most people use their home equity line of credit to finance land, or simply pay cash. But if you want to offer taking back the first mortgage in any case, speak with an attorney first and ask the hard questions.
Options, options - next time, pricing!
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
There are currently 122 active single family listings in the Skaneateles area of the multiple listing service. Five of these are new this week, although four of those are actually re-lists with adjusted prices and a change of agent in some cases. There are no new contingent homes however I know of at least three that are waiting for sign-offs before being marked as such. Fourteen homes are pended, just waiting to close.
We still have only 3 closed properties, year-to date. Last year by this time there were 8; the year before there were 9. Am I worried? Not in the least! With what is still unpublished as sold, and the pending ones soon to close, we will be fine and on our way to the 80 - 85 homes I predicted would be closed at the beginning of the year.
One of my valued readers contributed the link to the article praising Syracuse as one of the 25 strongest markets in the United States. The easy way to find it is to go to http://www.forbes.com/ and type in "strong real estate cities." A list of articles will pop up and you can have your choice. Thank you, valued reader, for finding it for me!
I noticed today coming back from lunch in Syracuse that on Genesee Street there are at least three rental signs. Over the weekend I looked into rentals and was surprised to find there are currently 18 listed. Last year 36 were leased, which I find an amazing number. I never would have guessed. I know I did a booming business in rentals, both in Skaneateles and elsewhere, but I thought I might be the exception. Apparently not. People are renting instead of buying.
Once the stimulus plan is known, and if it contains a magical 4% guaranteed rate for mortgage loans, I see it all changing. I told someone today that might be in the offing, and she said she'd go buy something in Florida at that price. Will it apply to second homes - I have no idea. But simply knowing what it will be will make everyone feel more confident in their purchases.
Monday, February 9, 2009
I only knew Nate through the columns he wrote and a mutual friend, Lucy, an Old English sheepdog with whom he roamed the parks and byways of Central New York. But he reminded me of everyone's dogs who make life so much better. And since this comes on the heels of another friend's cat's unexpected passing, I wanted to devote a bit of time to what our animals bring us.
In the same e-mail batch that announced the white kitty's end on this earth Intrepid Janet wrote to tell me they had adopted another cat, oddly enough a white cat. For those of you who don't have animals, you may not understand the devotion people feel to their animals and this blog won't make sense.
Kramer's introduction to Syracuse was aided and abetted by Nate. Just as my mother climbed the hills of Thornden Park for 56 years with various dogs, so did Kramer. The city is uniquely suited for dogs and dog-walkers. If you go out in the early morning you will see them. It's as regular as night meets day, or the old Cheers refrain "Where everybody knows your name." Kramer became part of the city because of Nate. A huge man, some thought he was a strange one to be out there, but Nate gave him an introduction. And the parks became the meeting grounds, the dogs the raison d'etre.
My mother had to give up the park when she moved in with us, but we gave her her own private park on our acreage. She had a bench in the glade, and afternoons would find her walking with her rollator slowly, ever so slowly, with Koko following behind, to her bench to read or sit in the sun. Hermes, the white Himalayan, would join them once they got settled.
My mother is gone with Hermes and now Nate, but for all the other pets - Zoie, Luke, Chloe, Red and Ginger, Guinness, Lily, Cody, Tanner and our Boo and Oscar (who has taken over Hermes' spot on the computer desk) - we need to let them know how much we appreciate them. Koko, curled up at my feet now, will be 16 this summer. I'll give her an extra (soft) goody today in honor of Nate. Patience Brewster has a lovely card entitled "In Good Company." It's a picture of a dog with a halo looking upwards.
So when the Post-Standard announces that they are raising their prices substantially, I just think how much would be lost if it went out of print. I had time today at the breakfast table to grieve for Kramer and Nate, just as other days I've had time to laugh with them. Read the column online, www.syracuse.com, if you can't get the paper today. And thanks, Kramer, for letting us get to know Nate.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
Mike Quigley has a new book out: Childhood Without a Helmet: Stump City Two. His first book was a recollection of his earlychildhood in Stump City, an area in Skaneateles Falls located behind the current WelchAllyn facility. One of seven brothers and sisters, they scraped together a life of childhood dreams and stellar personalities. When my clients bought an incredible home in Stump City last year, I became even more enamored of Mike's writing. Their home is in the book - guess what they got for a closing present!
And now there's a new one - with the kids older and more irascible (or at least some of them). Great reading by the fire - it's our history, too.
If you'd like to hear Mike speak, he will be at Creekside on Thursday, March 5th at 7:00 PM. Go to http://www.creeksidebooks.com/ for updated information as the time gets closer. Or to buy the book, too!
One of our administrators at RE/MAX Masters shared with us a video her son, Michael Chapman, had made. We stood here in the office watching and listening and feeling again everything we had felt during the Inauguration. Please take a moment to see and hear this. The creator is a junior in college. Just click the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlVsAgMD7qo
Another wonderful aspect of life in upstate New York is the opportunity to meet again people who grew up here. I had a good friend through high school and college years, lost track of him ten years ago, and he re-surfaced out of the blue this past summer. His sister called me recently and I was able to tell her how much I had enjoyed her work which I'd seen in art galleries. She told me about her website - http://www.customcloth.com/ - and I invite you to enjoy it also. She will be have a new installation at the Delavan Gallery in Syracuse in March which I will pass along as the time gets closer.
One does not live by bread alone!
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
There are currently 117 active listings, the same as last week. Three new ones came on but they are all re-lists. All three dropped their prices, ranging from a high of almost 25% from the original list price to a mere 5%. Two are under $200,000 and the third is waterfront/lake rights over $500,000. No property is immune from price reductions, it seems.
There are 6 properties marked contingent, two of which are new. Both are village homes in the $350,000 - $500,000 range. One was listed for a year and dropped the price 10% and the other must have had the right price (I know it had the right location) because it sold in a week. It will be interesting to see what the actual sale prices are; generally the quicker the sale, the closer to the list price.
Eleven properties are pended. As I "turn the pages" I see every one with startling green grass!
We now have 3 closed single family homes in 2009. The new one sold for almost 30% under the original list price, almost 20 months after it was first listed. For some reason the under $300,000 homes seem to be taking the bigger hit in price reductions. I can only surmise that it's because the buyers are less likely to be in a position to take a chance. They are more dependent on jobs and have fewer assets. If anyone else has a competing theory please chime in!
I thought it would be interesting to break down the number of active listings this week and see what actually was out there. I saw a long list of "Calemad" new homes for sale, the road in the subdivision just outside the county line but in Skaneateles Schools. There are altogether 33 active homes I would call new construction - built between 2006 and 2009. Waterfront homes - both on the water and lake rights - come in at 40. That leaves village and town existing houses at 44. I'll keep an eye on these divisions, each about a third of the total active listings as the months go by. My guess: waterfront sales will outdistance existing homes and leave new construction far behind. Anyone else have a differing viewpoint? But again, a lot of it is in the pricing!