Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Singles are Buying in Baltimore

Jody Landers knows the Baltimore market better than anyone. As Executive Vice President of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, he has the stats and the lowdown on what's happening in Central Maryland real estate.

We talked the other day when we both guests on the radio show, All About Real Estate. The GBBR works with the National Association of Realtors® on surveys of buyers and sellers, and Baltimore stood out on several counts.

First, we learned that overall the Baltimore market is doing very well, and even though sales volume has gone down since last year, prices are holding up. In 2006, the average price of a home in Central Maryland was $316,000, and in 2007 it is $312,000 – a drop of only 1%. That's great news for sellers, even though houses are staying longer on the market.

For buyers, the affordability of houses is very good compared to our nearby neighbors in the Washington, DC metropolitan and Northern Virginia area. The average home in DC is selling at $528,000, and in Northern Virginia it's even higher at $549,000. Compare those to two properties I have listed right now that are in walking distance to the Light Rail, and are priced in the $200,000 range.

Jody had some interesting news about who is buying in our area. We learned that young, single people – especially young women – are seeing the benefits of living in Baltimore, and are buying homes at twice the national average. Last year, 40% of Baltimore homes were sold to single females and 16% to single males. Overall, we are seeing many people under 35 buying homes in Baltimore City where they can find an affordable price and the lifestyle they enjoy. In 2006, 55% of buyers in Baltimore City were single people of all ages.

City living can mean finding an older home that needs some work. Jody told us about Healthy Neighborhoods (www.healthyneighborhoods.org) that focuses on older areas with special financing available for both buying and rehabbing homes in those neighborhoods. Some of these areas have marvelous large homes that need work, like the ones pictured here, but as he pointed out, that's how a buyer can build equity and long-term value.

What's ahead for the Baltimore market? We don't know yet the full effect of the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) changes, but clearly it will bring new jobs and new demand for housing to the Baltimore area, from Ft. Meade to Aberdeen. In the meantime, the sellers in Baltimore are seeing their prices hold up, and buyers have many options throughout the metro area.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Appointments or Disappointments...Part 2

Last February I talked about how I make my own appointments, and as often as possible, I also do the showings. Recently, in another online community, there's been discussion about this, and some people seem to think that a listing agent who wants to be there for a showing gets in the way of making a sale. Worse, some buyer's agents are afraid that the listing agent is trying to steal their client. I disagree, and here's why.

It's not that I don't have enough to fill up my time – does this calendar look as if I have nothing better to do? And no, I'm not a greedy listing agent wanting to steal buyers; I have all the referrals I can handle and then some. What I do want is to get the house sold!

It all comes down to the level of service that I want for my clients. I choose to limit my clients to special people, people I really want to work with. Taking care of sellers is the most important thing I do, and that means I make the appointments and, if possible, I do the showings. I've had many sellers who wanted and needed me to be there during a showing: elderly people, recent widows and widowers, young families with small children, people with pets, and those with other special needs.

Anyone can put on a lock box, put up a sign, and set a low price, then wait for the contracts. I choose to go for quality first, and that means that having many people trooping through is not necessarily the best way to sell a house. Ask yourself: If you were showing your parents' home, would you want a lock box and uncontrolled showings? Or would you like an agent you trust to be looking out for your Mom and Dad?

Selling a home is stressful. Showings are stressful. My job is to do whatever I can to alleviate the stress for my sellers. To share the frustration when an agent is two hours late or does not show up or call at all. To allay their stress when an agent shows up but doesn’t come in. I am not there to make it easy for agents who are not prepared or who make a bunch of appointments on the spur of the moment.

I explain all this to my sellers. We may have fewer showings – we may even miss an occasional showing. But the buyers and agents who call about the home will talk with me to make the appointments, and then I have an opportunity to share special things about the property. Yes, all the information about the property is in the listing, but not every agent reads past the price and address before taking their buyer out. And some are not aware of the importance of specifics about the property that I can explain. Here's an example: I have saved countless hours of NOT showing a particular property with what looked like a terrific price, because people read "Co-op" and think it means "Condo." But it's not the same. The co-op requires cash contracts only, so there can be no mortgage, and does not allow pets. By talking with prospective buyers or their agents first, I can save everyone a lot of time while saving my clients the extra stress of having showings that should never happen.

I always tell the agents if I will be there for the showing, and always ask if they have a problem with my presence. I have found that 99% of them appreciate my being there to point out features of the home, especially if they have never seen the property. Then I go into another room and allow them to stay as long as they like while I do other work (like commenting on AR posts). But if they don't want me there, they can say so.

Recently I met an agent at one of my new listings. The first thing he said was, "This is just too small. There's no way they will have any interest." He was not even going to let his buyers come in. I asked that since they were already there, would they please come in and take a look around? Then I had the opportunity to say, "Yes it is a small house ...but did you see the family room which can be a third bedroom or guest room? And did you see the size of the yard and the hot tub? Did you notice the pull down stairs with access to attic storage?" The buyers fell in love with the house and wound up writing an over list, non-contingent contract with settlement that closes this week.

At first, the agent was not happy with me, but now he sings my praises for the helpful information I was able to give to him and his buyers. He also got a bit of education in the process. He had never heard of a house built on a slab, had never heard of radiant heat. He was very grateful to have me share this information and help "close" his buyers so he could get a commission.

It does not matter whether the listing is a million dollar mansion or a fixer-upper row house. I give one level of service to all my listings. Yes, I do make all my appointments, and yes, I am there for most showings!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Special Treatment!

Anyone who knows me knows that I love the color brown. Maybe that's why chocolate is such a favorite of mine! I once owned a brown Porsche 944, and I never thought I could feel the same way about another car. I drove that gem for 10 years until I totaled it. I loved that car.

A couple of Saturdays ago after my morning workout, I got a call from TLH Lee that he had a problem with his car, had taken it to the dealer, and needed me to pick him up. Now everyone knows that Lexus always has a loaner car for customers. His said, no, there was no loaner because of the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

So I drove to the dealer, pulled into the lot, and called Lee on his cell phone. "I am waiting for you outside." He said to come inside, and I said, "Nope, I will wait for you here." And I went back to making appointments.

Next thing there was a tap on my car window and it was Stan, the salesman. He asked, "Will you come in for a minute?" I told him, "Not today Stan, I am busy making appointments, plus I am in workout clothes!"

Then he said, "Dennis (the manager) really needs to talk with you." OK, so I went to Dennis' office, but he wasn't there. I went out on the showroom floor…and there it sat!!

A brown SC 430 with the top down, wrapped with a huge red bow, and a certificate with my name!

I exclaimed, "You painted a car for me, I love it!" But no, not a paint job… it was a NEW CHOCOLATE BROWN car with a honey tan interior!

My daughter Erica was there to share the surprise, snapping photos with Lee's cell phone camera. I still don't know how Lee and Erica kept this from me. Dennis had the car ordered more than two months ago, and Lee knew about it two weeks before I did.

My wonderful husband wrapped this fantastic surprise around two very important and happy dates – his birthday on May 29, and our anniversary on May 30. We've been married for 14,244 days – yes, we always know how long in days, because each one is special. How long is that? You can find the answer here.

Lee, Erica, Dennis, and Stan were truly able to surprise me, and that's not easy. I should have suspected something, though. Lee has been asking me what car I want next, and my lease is not up for another 4 or 5 months.

I really did like the car I was driving - it's a two-door coupe and exactly right for me. I've had the identical Lexus SC430 – in black – two cars in a row. I was happy with the car, I just wanted it in brown. Several times Dennis told me the car was simply not available in brown. I would even have painted it, but was told I couldn't do that either, that painting would destroy the value…yada, yada.

After the big surprise, Dennis came over to me and apologized. He said our relationship has always been built on trust, and he had to fib about this. Not to worry, Dennis. Just about a week ago we were in the showroom with our friends Corie and Vic, who love cars, and they pulled out this perfect brown color swatch. Dennis didn't miss a beat and said, "Not available." If I had even gone to the web site I would have seen that they now make it in brown…but I was too busy and believed that gentle lie.

Special treatment really is what I got. Stan was on vacation this week, but he came in just for me and even dressed in BROWN. In the picture of Stan and Lee checking out the trunk, you'll see they are both in shades of brown, too!

So what does all this have to do with real estate? If we can find out what the customer wants and needs, there is NO selling involved. These guys listened, they took it upon themselves to order the car with no commitment. These guys got TLH involved to help with the excitement. They knew their customer and they went way above to give personal service.

Do you think that I am not aware of all they did, coming in on their day off, having all the paper work ready? They arranged to take my Treo and program it for the Bluetooth in the car so I was ready to go. Stan even programmed the GPS with my home address, and changed the presets on my radio to match my previous stations. THAT is extraordinary service.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Clone-onials? I'll Sell Them But….

Here in the Baltimore area market, so many homes are what I call "Clone-onials." You know, the lovely 4 bedroom, 2-1/2 bath, large family room, 2 car garage, Colonial-style house in a good school district. They can be anywhere from modest size to McMansions, but they often look as if some giant cookie-cutting machine spit them out into neat developments of cul-de-sacs. Now there's nothing wrong with these – they sell well, and I won't turn them down – but they aren't much fun, either.

What is fun is the challenge of selling an unusual property. When I started thinking about "Clone-onials," I looked back and found that the transactions I enjoyed the most did not fit that mold.

Taney Road was a double challenge – it was an unusual shape and style, having been designed by the architect/owner. Its biggest issue was the condition inside. I usually include lots of interior photos with a listing, but this time there were a few selected shots. Let's just say that the best solution was to strip it down to the bare walls and floor, and start again. So that's what we did, selling it "as is," and that way put the price in range for some lucky buyers.

Marbrook Road was about as far as you can get from Clone-onial with its dramatic contemporary styling. It took as special kind of buyer for this unusual home, but the desirable location definitely helped.

As contemporary and sleek as Marbrook Road was, Keller Avenue was at the other end of the spectrum. The small two-bedroom one-bath rancher looked to me like a tear down because the house was in need of major repair, but it sat on a full acre in a beautiful neighborhood. We thought we were selling it for the land, but a young couple with energy and dreams bought it to rehab.

Then there was Grasty Road. A lovely rancher with a pool and two big negatives: it had no basement, and it backed up to the noise-abatement wall of the busy Baltimore beltway. That one went to auction to find the right buyer.

Sometimes it's just doing the logical things that sell a challenging property. German Hill Road was on the market for a couple of years with other agents but had no takers. It had acreage on a busy street in a desirable area of Baltimore county, with a small ranch house, greenhouse, a three-car garage, and subdivision possibilities. This "unsaleable" property needed the right kind of advertising and a simple sign out front. After two years on the market, it sold within a week to a neighboring church that wanted to expand. Advertising to the right buyers, and being available to take the many, many phone calls – as many as 25 a day- were the secrets to selling this property.

What are my current "challenge" properties? On the Marriottsville Road property we have 20 acres and 18 bedrooms. The brick rancher has an in ground pool and enormous possibilities for someone with about $1.2 million to invest. And one of my favorite properties, on Triadelphia Road, is an historic church that has been a home and artist's studio for the last 30 years. Here, too, the possibilities are limitless for buyers with imagination.

And that's really the answer, isn't it? With imagination and creativity, even challenging properties can be sold. "Clone-onials" are easy - I'll take the "unsaleable" property any day.

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