Monday, March 21, 2011

Were Home Sales Statistics Truthful?

It's bad enough how many realty associations and industry organizations are adding fuel to the fire with the barrage of negative home sales statistics in this marketplace.

Now comes word that this might become a credibility issue as well. A Southern California based real estate data firm, CoreLogic, has issued a report claiming that the National Association of Realtors appears to have overstated sales of existing homes by as much as 20% over the past five years.

This puts a double whammy on the recent statistics. Many realty associations have been releasing data showing the drops in home sales with comparative statistics. These, of course, put the various local markets in a bad light. So if it indeed turns out that the earlier statistics (1 year ago, 2 years ago, etc.) were actually inflated, it means that home sales have been sluggish for even longer than these associations would have the public believe.

Now this is close to becoming a credibility issue totally separate from such a struggling market. The NAR shouldn't have to utilize its resources for crisis management while the very market it serves is in a crisis.

It has been too soon since the tragedy in Japan hit for us to realize how that is also another blow to the U.S. real estate market as well. Estimates are already coming that it will take upwards of five years to rebuild Japan. With the technology and innovations which have come from that country, I have to believe that international investors will be ready with funding to make sure it happens. That is funding which might otherwise be put into commercial properties and real estate related investing here in the U.S.

On the other side, think back to the early 90's and the California real estate boom. That "boom" was brought on in part due to overseas investors paying above and beyond the asking prices for upscale and high end homes in both Northern and Southern California. For many Japanese investors, high end homes in California were then a bargain compared with home prices in Japan at that time, even at inflated prices here in the States.

Now, especially with the incredible disaster facing Japan and the world, any such international activity in the United States is out of the question. Another blow to the U.S. market.

As much as I dislike using negative statistics in this marketplace (although I'm not representing a realty association in doing so), this is already showing up.

This past weekend, the Orange County Register (So. California) reported on the total sales for February 2011 as well as the first half of March for "luxury homes" (millions of dollars) in Newport Beach and Laguna Beach totaled: zero. After there were sales during January.

If only the focus could turn to how to get properties sold, instead of what the statistics should show.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Industry Still In Denial

It was just another day of reviewing real estate news looking for something other than the usual real estate professionals releasing negative statistics. Until I came upon a story from Springfield IL.

Of course, the story contains several negative statistics released by the local Association of Realtors. What makes this story so incredible is how the Association President blames "the weather and high gas and food prices" for the drop in home sales.

See for yourself:

It's time to blame the Assn. President for not giving this story a much needed positive twist. If I had read that during Feburary 165 home sales were completed in the Springfield IL area, I'd could have been impressed. That month included a severe blizzard, a substantial increase in gas prices, etc. Yet, during that time, an average of more than 3 homes were sold every day. Someone could have figured maybe there are reasons to buy in that area.

It can't be that so many agents are in such denial. At least, I hope not. This is perhaps the worst case of the "You wouldn't want to buy a home here, would you?" syndrome I have seen coming from industry members.

We should all be working on solving the current problem. It is getting more serious every day. Many of those who are not afraid to purchase and can afford to can't get a mortgage. Even more can't get rid of their current property to make their next purchase.

Yet, this guy wants us to believe that if there was not a snowstorm, if gas was still at $2.40 a gallon, and the food crop was better this winter, more homes would have sold.

Not exactly a solution.

Here is it a month later. The snow is all gone. I'm still putting gas in my car, and still eating my regular meals every day. But my house still hasn't sold after more than a year on the market.

I suppose that's because of the St. Patrick's Day parades? Guess we'll find out next month.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Would Outside Incentives Help The Purchase Market?

Some realty firms and builders have stepped up efforts with offers of an incentive, often worth thousands of dollars, to buyers upon closing. The trend seems to be leaning toward the incentive being something not specific to the property.

Offering or giving an incentive to a buyer is nothing new. In the past, it might be new furniture, a big screen TV, or some sort of a services discount or gift (i.e. free maid service for 3 months).

One big difference with incentives now is that many more are offered to buyers, whereas in the past it was often incentives to realty agents who brought the successful buyer. Even though it was about 20 years ago, I still remember a time I was doing a marketing presentation at a realty association meeting in the Los Angeles area. While waiting, several agents were pitching new listings they had to the other agents in order to draw attention in a then hot market.

The owner of a realty office with about 12 agents got up, pitched one of his listings, and then promised "an additional $5,000 in commission on a sale from any of you who get me an offer by 5:00 PM today". Now that was "creative selling" at its best!

Of course, at that time, his purpose was to attract attention to his listing and make other agents remember it ahead of hundreds currently available within the same area. And attract attention he did. Yet, the eventual buyer of that home had no clue. The "incentive" was used effectively where it needed to be.

Recently, I have seen sellers, realty companies, and builders offering some interesting incentives to the actual buyer. These range from a pick-up truck to installing hardwood floors. Some are specific to the property, others are geared toward the buyers.

A realty company in Birmingham AL offered a 4-year tuition to the University of Alabama Birmingham Medical School (over $22,000) with the purchase of a unit in an upscale development. The Birmingham News reported there were no takers. (On a separate note, that incentive was stopped. That was dumb to stop it. They should have continued it since not many other incentives are valued at more than $20,000, and if they got a "taker" the local and national publicity it would have generated would be worth far more than the amounts paid out!)

I also saw a news story about a seller who allowed the asking price to be reduced by $2,500 per week for several weeks.

In an active real estate market, such methods make sense when the idea is to make "your" property stand out. Agents and builders want buyers to consider their property ahead of others they are looking at. Of course, this assumes there are plenty of active buyers out there.

That's the difference. Right now, thousands of dollars worth of incentives don't matter nearly as much when people who want to buy can't get a mortgage and/or can't sell their current property to guarantee a move. Unless they are the right incentives.

For many, the "right" incentive would be a buyer for their current property so that it can lead to the next sale, or being able to get better financing for a first-time buyer.

Somehow, there has to be a way for "regular" sellers to compete against the foreclosures and short sales. But first, we need for buyers to compete. Period. The fact that there continues to be so many foreclosures and short sales on the market tells me that there people are not buying, even at lower prices.

Until people and investors can start buying a serious number of properties, a big screen TV or a pick-up truck won't make a difference.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Those Negative Home Sale Statistics

You would think that Realtors would know not to make things any more embarassing when it comes to their take on the current state of home sales.

Now comes word from Minneapolis that home sales in the Minneapolis area declined more than 30% when compared with one year ago for the last week in February. This "report" points out how that week's drop was more than double the 12% decline of the previous week. Put that "report" together and it spells an alarming and disturbing trend for anyone trying to or thinking of trying to sell a house or condo in that area.

This "report" tries to make the excuse that sales were higher a year ago because of the real estate tax credit which was available to first-time buyers and sellers under certain conditions at the time. That tax credit is no longer available. Therefore, by making this excuse, this "report" is really pointing out how the market conditions are really less favorable compared with one year ago since that tax credit is no longer available to anyone. Such a "reminder" to the concerned consumers reading that certainly doesn't help the situation either.

Yet, I am sorry to report that there is one more disturbing element to this "report", as if the negative news to current and potential sellers isn't already enough.

It seems that this "report" that contains all this discouraging information didn't even need to be released to the media to spread the word about how miserable the market is.

Let me put it another way. It SHOULD NOT have ever been released. It could have been prevented.

The source of this information is the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors. You read that right. The dues money that agents and realty offices throughout the Twin Cities area is going, in part, to have information such as this released to the public.

Why there is this need for realty associations around the country to continue to pump out even one negative statistic is beyond me. I would understand if this information was coming from outside public companies, investment bankers, commercial property brokers, or banks which do not handle mortgages by way of news releases. Entities such as those are looking for large investor monies and would take the chance to bash something competing for investment dollars.

"People aren't buying real estate to make money, but if you invest with us, you could earn x% within 10 years", could be used to entice wealthy consumers to invest in long term bonds or certificates which assure a payoff at some point.

Instead, the industry continues to shoot itself in the foot. Worse yet, they are helping to take down thousands of current and potential home sellers in the process.

Having said that, I have other news to report specific to the Minneapolis area. During the last week of February 2011, just 2 weeks ago, 608 initial purchase agreements for houses or condos were signed. That means that, while some people are questioning the real estate market at the moment, about 600 properties were sold within one week's time in and around that major city! And that's without a tax credit or any other significant incentive.

In fact, I was able to verify that statistic with the Minneapolis Association of Realtors. It again shows that if you dig hard enough, you can find some good news for consumers.

Monday, March 7, 2011

More Ways For Banks To Send The Wrong Message

The majority of us can certainly understand the need to tighten up the mortgage industry after the fallout from too many subprime and high risk loans which failed a few years back. However, the punishment still doesn't fit the crime.

Getting a mortgage continues to become even more of a challenge these days, with upcoming additions to the process potentially raising costs for consumers and for mortgage brokers starting in April. At this point in the real estate crisis, issuing mortgages is no longer the problem.

New research starts out as a positive statistic, to indicate that more investors are paying cash for properties as they take advantage of the good deals out there for buyers. New research of the Southeast Florida market (from Palm Beach to Miami) shows that more than 54% of houses and condos sold there during the 4th quarter of 2010 were paid for in cash. (This research was provided by That comes to more than 7,500 sold properties PAID FOR WITH CASH!

The purpose of these statistics is to show that homes are selling and the deals for buyers are good. And that could be. In 2006, about 13% of homes were purchased with cash. From a little more than one in ten to more than half - in under 5 years. Of course, in 2006 there were plenty more mortgage programs more easily available.

What does today's trend have to do with the banks? Plenty.

Face it, the majority of the 7,500+ homes paid for with cash were bought by investors. I'm sure a percentage of them bought more than one property at these low prices.

Yet, these investors paid in full instead of going for mortgages. If you have the cash, you'll get a mortgage. But in just this one slice of the country, there were about 7,000 possible mortgage transactions that did NOT happen. It's time to look at why.

My guess is this is because of how little the banks have to offer in return for cash today, even when compared with 2006 when mortgages were the vast majority. A savvy investor wouldn't put up the entire $200,000 for a condo when they could get a decent return on a long-term CD instead. So they would get a mortgage, enjoy the tax advantage, and pay it off as scheduled, while investing the remainder of their funds someplace else.

It could have been CD's, Money Market, or other bank programs that paid more than the paltry amount they pay now. No reason for investors to look in that direction today.

If getting a mortgage wasn't such a hassle, a savvy investor could make a $40,000 down payment on 3 separate properties valued at $200,000 each, and have working capital left over to pay the mortgages for months to come. Then, they could invest their "working capital" into short and long-term CD's to grow their money toward future property payments, or use a home equity loan on one property to help pay down the others.

But now, these investors are passing by the mortgage opportunity and putting their trust into turning a profit as the market turns for the better. Heck, if an investor were to sell later this year and only make $5,000 more on a $200,000 property, they would likely do better than with a 6-month CD.

Some consumers watch for trends by investors. Now they can see that a bigger percentage of people buying property are NOT getting a mortgage, even when they could. Not exactly an incentive for the typical consumer to want to take out a mortgage to buy another property.

Oh, I also have a hunch that the 7,500+ sellers who received cash from the buyer probably didn't use their money to start a savings account and watch it grow.

Hopefully the banks will do what it takes to bring back the home mortgage as a viable option, before it's too late.

Friday, March 4, 2011

How To Win The Buyer vs. Seller Matchups

As I have said throughout the real estate crisis, advertising and marketing continues to play a significant role in turning the market around. Not only how much, but how.

Agents advertising their listings need to, more than ever, focus on who the most logical potential buyer is. I’m not talking about ethnicity or nationality, or anything else that cannot be included within an advertisement. It is where and how you advertise a listing that makes all the difference in today’s market.

If you are a buyer, or an agent fortunate enough to have a sincere buyer, consider their needs. When you have an individual or group which is investing, that is when you might look closely at “fixer-upper” listings. At least, any which are at the lowest of the low in terms of price for the area the property is in.

This way, an investor can be presented with two options. Point out that he/she/they can look at flipping the property in the near future if local price comparisons would work in their favor. Or, point out how by contracting certain improvements over the next few months could place the property in the caliber of a comparable “move-in condition” home in the same community.

For example, suppose you have a 3-bedroom fixer-upper reduced to $175,000. Your research shows a nearby 3-bedroom home in “move-in” condition listed at $188,000. Let the investor see what needs to be done in order to equal or “beat” the $188,000 home, and let the investor determine the approximate cost to make that happen. If there is a fit, the investor then has a direct reason to jump all over the $175,000 home.

Why only show the “fixer-upper” to investors? Frankly, too many agents pushing listings should know the answer but don’t.

With the huge amount of inventory out there, many agents overlook that buyers looking for a home for the family or even themselves don’t need to purchase a “fixer-upper” and spend and work themselves crazy to save a few thousand dollars anymore.

They are finding ready-to-go homes that don’t need much work for right around the same price. Conditions have changed because of all of the lower priced homes out there in most communities. Families no longer have to buy the house without a floor but with cracked walls for less money in order to move in to the area they want. Chances are they can get a great price on a “ready to go” home that lets them spend Saturday afternoons at the movies instead of on their knees scrubbing.

Agents need to keep these factors in mind when trying to move their new listings. That includes advertising and marketing. Some buyers want the best place to move into and have it be functional. You should be able to point out that “for $5,000 more, you save the $10,000 worth of work and the hours of your labor to fix up the other property” to a family.

At the moment, the way to go is to think in terms of matchups. What fits best for the situation. In basketball, the best scorer on your favorite team doesn’t always match up against the opponent’s best scorer. It depends on which player is best equipped to defend. When it comes to a job opening, it isn’t always qualifications. It is often which candidate best fits in with others on the team that determines the hire. And in real estate, it now needs to be the buyer with the “best fit” for the seller. But first, it needs to be pointed out.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Agents - Get Your Clients Into The White House

Now that I have shared this with my valued clients, I thought I'd share something for realty agents to share with some of their buyers and sellers. Especially those with teen children.

The deadline is coming up for applications for interns - at The White House. What does this have to do with Real Estate? Nothing.

What does this have to do with your appropriate buyers, sellers, and clients? It could a lot. In this (or, for that matter, ANY) real estate market, agents need to distinguish themselves. Not just sending out newsletters and reminders which have no bearing to the local market or what he/she is all about.

Suppose you have clients with children in high school. This is a reason to call or e-mail them and suggest that (names) apply for a White House internship. This shows your clients you are thinking of specifically them. They may pursue it, they may not. But chances are they'll tell others about what you did for them.

Once you get their attention, send them this link:

Of course, I suggest to my advertising and marketing clients that they follow back in a few weeks to ask if (name of child or children) applied. Maybe they received a response from someone at the White House! Trust me. You'll get a more favorable reaction than if you called them to ask about local home prices.

How Banks Can Turn Around The Real Estate Market

It’s one of the first marketing and public relations tips a young person learns. Do your best to turn a negative into a positive. That thought should be in big, bold letters in every banker’s office in the country.

There I was reading more less than encouraging predictions for the real estate market last night. About how the banks continue to slow down the foreclosure process, claiming it is because of the government’s mortgage modification programs. Whether or not such is really the case or if certain bank executives are too busy counting their millions in bonus money I don’t know. But I do know that this is the single most damaging element to the current real estate crisis.

Considering how the government handed over all those millions to several large banks instead of paying back thousands of specific loans, it is up to these same banks to make the sales of foreclosures the number one priority.

If you wonder why I blame the banks as I do, there is a quote from a Chief Economist at Standard & Poor’s in Banker & Tradesman saying that “The time it takes to do a foreclosure has doubled” in a story published earlier this very week. This is a lot worse than banks with one teller and 10 people in line, and our usual service gripes.

Those few consumers or investors with enough funds and/or secure enough employment to risk purchasing a residence don’t care if the next great deal is a foreclosure or a desperate seller with other motivation. They want a good deal. But if the banks are stalling the sale of foreclosures, it really means that those homes which are not under foreclosure seem “higher priced” to a potential buyer and thus less appealing.

Suppose the banks knew they should thank their lucky stars the government handed over the millions to keep them in business and got serious about helping the economy. And they made it so that homes under foreclosure were EASY to purchase and quick to close. That would entice the investors and potential buyers to get in on the best deals first, while they last.

As foreclosure homes start to sell at reduced prices, it would raise the number and percentage of available homes sold. If several homes under foreclosure in the same community were to sell within a short period of time, that would create a demand for homes in that area. Now the lowest priced homes have been purchased, and that opens it up for the most motivated sellers to adjust their pricing to be the next sale.

However, as long as the banks play the stalling game and degrade the sales of foreclosure properties, home values across the country continue to plummet and millions of current mortgages stay under water. While the banks continue to raise service fees for consumers and businesses and sitting on their foreclosures, they could be taking the lead to stimulate this economy. Here’s hoping they get the message and get aggressive about finding buyers for their properties. Quickly. Or renting them out for a monthly income. Before it’s too late for them, and for us.

Foreclosures are a negative, but I see the way to turn them into a positive.