Most Top Realtors Predicting Better Market by Spring

(Friday, October 13, 2006 10:50 AM EDT)
The real estate market downturn has forced sellers to price their houses more competitively and real estate agents to devote more time and money to marketing, area Realtors said.

While the heady, sell-a-house-in-three-days market of the past three years is history, there are plenty of opportunities for hard-working agents to succeed, they said.

Dawn Jones, a Realtor for 20 years with Weichert Center in McLean, said she doesn't expect the current real estate market downturn to be as deep or prolonged as the one in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Washington, D.C., area's heavy governmental presence and high-paying jobs help stabilize its economy, to say nothing of the fact that there are many people in this area with deep-lined pockets, she said.

“There will not be any great slide in prices. Prices go up, then go down a bit and then go up again,” Jone said. “It's sort of like the stock market. Prices do go up over the years, but just not at a straight angle, rather with little hiccups.”

Correct pricing and preparation before putting a house on the market is the key to timely and profitable housing sales, Jones said. Jones and her assistant make a sort of “wish list” of all the things that they would like a homeowner to do in order to show the house at its best.

“It's sort of like Cinderella before she goes to the ball,” Jones said. “The prince surely would not have chosen her with just rags, a grimy face and no glass slippers.”

Jane Price, a 30-year licensed Realtor who works at Weichert, Realtors' McLean Center Office, said the market shifted abruptly from sellers to buyers in summer 2005. As a result, buyers now have time to make more informed decisions and sellers must consider price reductions, improving their homes' value before selling - or not selling at all, she said.

Price said she keeps a close eye on consumer confidence, job growth and interest rates. These tend to be pretty stable in the Washington, D.C., area and even more so for her sales region of Tysons Corner, McLean and North Arlington, she said.

Price predicted that the current market correction and attendant slower sales momentum will lift next spring.

Lilian Jorgenson of Long & Foster Dolley Madison in McLean said the slower market forces real estate agents to work more creatively and pay closer attention to their property listings.

“Houses don't sell right away now. They're on the market for four or five months,” Jorgenson said. “You have to juggle scheduling open houses, and do competitive market analyses each week for your listings to see what is happening in the market.”

Housing inventory is growing, but Jorgenson said the Christmas season might give some buyers the extra emotional push to take the plunge.

Russell Arkin, a Realtor of Re/Max Distinctive Real Estate Inc. in McLean, said the market slowdown has made housing prices more reflective of reality.

“Sellers who sometimes priced too exuberantly now regret that they've missed the upward explosion of prices,” he said. “You have to look at prices at a very local level, almost neighborhood-by-neighborhood or house-by-house.”

Getting houses into ship-shape condition for showings also is vital, Arkin said.

“Homes that are in move-in condition - where people can just unpack and start living there, instead of its being a Home Depot project - are received better in terms of time on market and price,” he said.

Donna Moseley, a Realtor in the Oakton office of Prudential Carruthers, believes the market will continue to be a “little bit troublesome.”

“It will not be a seller's market, and there will still be a lot of negotiating on contracts,” Moseley said. “It will probably take us a while to get to a more balanced market. Now it's lopsided in favor of the buyers. I just don't see it turning that quickly. Things will be more optimistic in the spring, but it will not be the easy times we had in the recent past.”

In contrast, Dave Eaton, a managing broker for Prudential Carruthers in the Fairfax, Oakton and Vienna office, has a much more positive outlook.

“I think things will be dynamite in the spring market,” he said. “The naysayers who are saying no, that's nonsense. We've seen tremendous improvement from August to September.”

Eaton said 50 percent of the company's business in September were listings sold, compared to only 10 percent in August.

“The job market in Northern Virginia is great and move-up buyers and investors are starting to come back into the market,” Eaton said. “There will be a little slowdown over the holidays, but by the middle of January, look out. In six months things will be in great shape.”

Barbara Hendrickson, a broker for Keller Williams, says there has been a positive turn in the market in recent weeks, but she is curious to see how the November elections change the market.

“A lot can turn on that,” she said. “In March, I think there will be more of an equal market with more give and take on both sides.”

Caroline Rocco of Coldwell Banker believes the market will be “poised and brisk” and ready to “take off again” come the springtime.

“It think it will be great,” she said. “Recently, we've seen activity of more buyers looking and ready to make decisions.”

Claire Driscoll, a Realtor with the Weichert Center office, says the market could go any of a number of directions, but expects improving conditions. “It's hard to say right now,” she said. “You almost don't want to jinx it.”

“I see it picking it up a little bit especially in the lower price brackets,” Driscoll said. “The people selling those houses will be able to move up, which hopefully will cause a ripple effect.”

Dean Yeonas, a Realtor with Yeonas and Shafran, is looking with optimism toward next spring.

“I think that for the next six months, our expectations are that inventory will remain at around current levels, prices will remain flat generally, and we're expecting a good spring market,” he said.

Barbara Lewis, a Realtor with Long & Foster, said sellers have the upper hand.

“I think the market has really improved for buyers and become much more competitive to sellers,” she said. “Sellers have to freshen up and update their homes in order to get the best price.”

“I think we're in an environment where everyone needs to be patient,” Lewis said. “The sellers are not selling in a week, and the buyers just need to look at a lot of homes before they make a decision. It's certainly understandable, because it's a very large financial commitment.”

“I'm very optimistic,” Lewis said. “I think the local economy is good, and, as prices balance with what buyers can afford, I think the market will continue do well.”

Tarafa Homsi, a Realtor with Re/Max McLean, said he sees “stability and improvement” in the coming six months.

“More stability is what I see, because now [the market] keeps coming down,” he said.

Mark McFadden, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker, said the local market is strong enough to persevere over the current situation.

“I think we're going to continue to have a strong market,” he said. “The biggest caveat with home buyers today is if they don't perceive value, they're not going to buy. Homes have to be priced very competitively in the current market. Those are the homes selling.”

“We're going to have steady activity because of the area we live in,” McFadden said. “But only the homes that are competitively priced, where buyers see value, are the ones that will sell.”

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