The Alachua County real estate market may be in flux, but it’s also presenting opportunities for savvy professionals, say several long-time real estate brokers. Signs of stress are everywhere.
The number of Alachua County home sales for the third quarter of 2010 were down 28 percent from the third quarter of 2009, according to Trulia, a national tracking company.
The median sales price decreased 5.5 percent, to $156,000, from the third quarter of 2009 to third quarter of 2010, according to Trulia.
The median sales price of condominiums was down 29 percent from November 2009 to November 2010, dropping from $120,000 to $85,000.
What those numbers mean for the real estate business depends on your point of view.
For example, dropping prices—along with low interest rates—have actually helped draw one-time renters into the buyer’s market, says Jennifer McIntosh, an agent with Prudential Trend Realty.
“I had a buyer who was paying $1,500 in rent and bought a home in High Springs with a payment, including escrows for taxes and insurance, of $900,” she says.
Smart realtors are searching out similar opportunities in the changing market and exploiting them to grow. Here are some examples:
Using branding to grow. When Tommy McIntosh, owner of Prudential Trend Realty, saw the market slowing down, he took advantage of the opportunity to shift his branding affiliation from ERA to Prudential. He says leaving a decades-long connection with ERA was difficult but Prudential offers the highest brand recognition among real estate companies nationwide and that has helped keep his business top of mind with potential buyers and sellers.
Expanding through acquisition. McIntosh also has strengthened his firm locally by acquiring Kanapaha Realty, Legacy Realty & Properties and Cynthia G. Miller Real Estate in the past six months.
Thanks to those acquisitions, he says, “We’ve added some top experienced professionals to our team. They’re creating synergy that enables us to respond to the many issues that come up in closing deals today.”
Winning a new class of customers. In good times, home- owners might have been able to sell their homes without a real estate agent, now that’s not so easy. That changing dynamic has helped Bosshardt Realty develop a new class of customers. “More people need to use us than ever,” says owner Carol Bosshardt, who says that “while the market is down about 30 percent in activity, we’re up 30 percent.”
Bosshardt also has exploited referrals to attract buyers and renters who are relocating to Gainesville, and those clients now make up more than a quarter of the company’s business, Bosshardt says. “We get referrals through UF and Shands that an owner selling on their own can’t get,” she says.
Providing a mix of services. Because it offers a mix of related services, from real estate sales and rentals, to property staging and more, Bosshardt also can generate business from multiple revenue streams. For example, Carol Bosshardt says her property management division is doing very well in the down market, because “Owners need us more than ever to check out renters.”
“We have very few evictions because we’re so thorough in checking people,” she says. “We get the cream of the crop.”
Offering customized customer service. Another way realtors are succeeding these days is by offering services that’s customized for each client, says Ken Cornell, broker with Cornell & Associates. “You have to know what people’s preferred form of communication is, whether it be phone, text or e-mail,” he says, adding, “We used to have a policy of getting back to people in 24 hours. Now we try to respond within an hour. It’s a day of instant information through iPhones and iPads.”
Cornell started his firm in October 2006, just before the market started declining. “We opened at the worst possible time, but we’ve been able to increase sales every year, and we just added four agents to our team,” he says.
Offering up-to-date advice on financing. With credit tight, real estate agents need to help buyers find financing more than ever, says Bonnie Mott, owner of ERA Preferred Properties. For example, she tells buyers about loan programs aimed at rural property that are available to people purchasing homes in parts of Alachua County, including Newberry and Turkey Creek.
“You constantly have to keep on top of what’s going on in financing,” she says.
Educating sellers to the changing market. This has been an ongoing issue for realtors, but it’s even more important now if homeowners want to generate sales, Mott says. Sellers “have to realize that there still is a market for their home, but it’s not as generous as it once was,” she says. Sometimes, she admits, convincing homeowners their homes have decreased in value is “like going through the stages of grief—from denial to acceptance.”
Reviving condo sales. Once a hard sell because they were priced high, condos now also present opportunities for realtors, Mott says. “Now that prices are way down, parents can buy a condo that students can live in while they’re in college and pay less than rent.”
The problem with condos is that many lenders won’t touch them, says J Parrish Jr., president of Coldwell Banker M.M. Parrish Realtors, adding, “You can get tremendous values if you’re a cash buyer.”
Like many of the realtors interviewed for this story, Parrish is cautiously optimistic that the local real estate market is stabilizing as consumer confidence edges up and interest rates rise.
“People who have been on the sidelines are getting into the market, hoping they haven’t missed the window of opportunity with low interest rates,” he says.
“We’re seeing a little traction,” he says. “It’s got to start somewhere.”