Real estate is local, but my experiences over the past several months are similar to those of real estate agents around the country. My job is like playing poker without a full deck. Not all of the homes I list will sell. A few years back getting a listing almost guaranteed a paycheck, and no agent would admit that they can’t sell every listing. Today, the only guarantee is that listings will generate expenses, and sometimes we need to say no to a potential seller.
Preapproved buyers used to get loans. These days a buyer can be preapproved until the rules, or "guidelines" as the underwriters call them, are changed. Homes used to appraise for just about whatever amount a buyer offered. That’s no longer true as homes now appraise below the asking price.
Buyers still use a lot of 100 percent financing, which in some cases works out to 106 percent financing. Sometimes buyers offer more than the list price, but the seller’s bottom line is still below the asking price after they pay the buyer’s closing costs. Some lenders are saying they will no longer lend more than the asking price. There goes another card from the deck.
Sellers can’t come down in price because they are already bringing as much money as they can possibly find to the closing. They still don’t need any money to buy another place, at least for now they don’t. They just do it backwards — they bring the same amount of money to the closing when they sell their home as they would have brought when they bought it if they had made a down payment or paid their closing costs.
Working with foreclosures is not fun. They are now a larger segment of the market and ignoring or avoiding them is impractical. Foreclosure buyers may bid on four or five bank-owned properties before the answer is yes, and in most cases that yes or no answer doesn’t come for a few days, weeks or months. I often wonder if the real estate writers who write about working with foreclosures have ever worked with any themselves. The process of buying foreclosures upsets buyers, and their agents do a lot of extra work for a smaller check when it is over. Some agents do nothing but foreclosures, and they make up for the smaller checks by selling more units.
The news media have some funny ideas about the real estate market. When they are not talking gloom and doom and the end of the world as we know it, they are giving advice about staging and telling buyers how to "get a deal." They don’t understand that for sellers who are upside down on their mortgages there are no simple answers and that buyers’ wages have not kept up with housing prices. Buying a home is still a stretch, and high gasoline and food prices are making it even more of a stretch.
This isn’t meant to be negative; it is just a dose of reality for those who are in the industry, but not necessarily in the field. When the real estate market changes, Realtors’ jobs change, and some agents get other jobs.
The advice that I am reading and listening to for Realtors and for consumers seems to have not kept up with the market. There are ways to make money as a Realtor and there are ways to cut expenses and even ways to find new cards to replace those that are missing from the deck.
Every day is a challenge and every buyer and seller a gamble. The rules are ever-changing and the surprises keep coming, but it isn’t a good idea to get too used to the current market because it will change again.
Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.
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