Saturday, October 28, 2006

It Worked For Bill Clinton, K.I.S.S. -- Just Price It Right!

This is a topic I've been meaning to address for a long time, but reading Bonnie Erickson's take on it this morning made me decide to put it off no longer. In the real estate industry, as in many others, when the tried and true is no longer working we look for a new road to travel. Value range marketing is not new. It's been around for years, but with waning sales and unhappy sellers this marketing device, unnecessary in our area of Long Island during the boon years, has been taken out, dusted off and is in reruns in your local real estate theater.

The theory, flawed at best, was if you couldn't get homeowners to come down to a price at which their home would actually sell, you could cajole them into what seemed like a more minor adjustment, hence the "range." An example: home was listed at $699,000, going nowhere. You make the adjustment to $599,000-$659,000 -- believing the lower end is where it's more likely to go, but making it more palatable to owner. If you truly believe it might sell at the high end of the range, why not just price it there. The problem as I see it is that any buyers (or their agents) seeing the range is looking at the low end, while sellers are anticipating offers at the high end. I think this one is a lose/lose for everyone.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Long Island's Town of Southampton Gambling on Court Decision

At odds are the Shinnecock Indian nation and several state agencies joined by the Town of Southampton. The focus of their fight, now in federal court is a 79 acre parcel of land in Hampton Bays known as Westwood. Although there is no question the Shinnecock tribe inhabited the land, at issue is whether or not they sold it in the 1600s to pay a fine for allegedly burning settlers' homes.

The greater battle, however, is over the proposed use of the land if the Shinnecocks win. The lawsuit is an attempt to block the construction of a casino on the site. For more information, read Newsday's article.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Botox -- The Latest Selling Incentive

Talk about creative marketing. It's one thing to offer cars, vacations or diamonds to get your home sold in a sluggish market, but one plastic surgeon offered free Botox injections to the Realtor who sold his property. Though ingenious, it begs the question, "what if the selling agent doesn't need it . . . yet? Is it bankable . . . or giftable? "Hi mom, happy birthday!" Perhaps one could trade it in for a down payment on a tummy tuck.

The trend of setting one's home apart from all the competition has taken on a whole new dimension and I suspect, before this market turns we'll see a whole lot more ingenuity out there.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Fake Stone -- A Very Real Alternative

Stone faced homes are nothing new to the Long Island landscape. They populate towns from the north to the south shores, conjuring up life as it was in this developing area earlier in the twentieth century. Except for a very few newly constructed houses in recent history going against popular style choices, stone as a facade has long been out of favor in this part of New York.

With choices very limited for manufactured stone, and unacceptably high prices for the real thing, the few properties that chose "stone" of a sort often looked remarkably like the Flintstones were moving into town. You know the kind, they stick out like a sore thumb, much like a six carat synthetic diamond. Well, happily there are impressive alternatives now. According to The Washington Post, with prices in the area running from $15 to $35 a square foot, it comes in mid point between vinyl siding and natural stone, making it a viable alternative.

One of the newly constructed homes I'm representing right now has stone as an alternative to the brick face on the other. It makes for an very attractive look.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Dealing With The Tough Ones

I find myself faced with a dilemma. I'm preparing a house for sale that in the end has to hurt someone. There is valid reason for the decision to put this property on the market and I'm bound by my fiduciary responsibility and my wish to ease the latter years of the owner who is no longer able to function completely on her own. By selling the house we can create the cushion she requires to enjoy comfortable surroundings and give her family the peace of mind to accommodate her changing needs.

The other side of the coin unfortunately involves one of her children still living in the home who has to be uprooted by the process. If life were perfect, I'd split the house down the middle and sell the part that would ease her burden and keep the part that would make her child's life easier at a time when life has thrown him a few curves. It's never easy in these circumstances. As the days go by and the home takes on new life I see his sadness ever increasing. We're inching closer to presenting a desirable property to a diminished buying population and possibly rendering him, temporarily homeless.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I'd Like A House And . . .

In the Long Island real estate market, with buyers playing hide and seek and new sellers joining the fray every week, builders, sellers and real estate agents alike are getting very creative in their marketing of homes. The boom years for building, recent enough in our memory to almost reach out and touch, have given way to unsold homes in significant numbers, prodding developers to come up with ingenious ways to set their properties apart. As reported by Newsday, Steven Klar is offering a $52,000 Mercedes as an inducement to buyers, hoping they'll choose one of his model homes in Locust Valley, Manorville or Huntington.

Homeowners have offered to pay for one year's mortgage payments, or vacations, or even package deals. Buy the house and get . . . In the last major downturn we often had sellers contributing to closing costs or absorbing points to pay down the purchaser's mortgage but more aggressive tactics are called for in these times.

Agents, accustomed to providing lunch, lottery tickets or theater tickets to their peers at Broker Open Houses before the market went crazy, are now having to come up with far more exciting fare, especially if they represent higher priced houses. The events they sponsor are costly, but the hoped for reward of a viable buyer spurs them on.

In Nassau County, as of August 2006 there were 10,041 homes for sale, up almost 67% from the same time last year. Suffolk County's statistics are similar with 13,999 homes on the market, up over 59%. So if you want it sold this year, you'd better get your creative juices flowing.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

MetLife Sale of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village

Stuyvesant Town along with it's sister complex, Peter Cooper Village were sold by MetLife to Tishman Speyer and the real estate arm of Black Rock for $5.4 billion dollars, more than the highest estimates would have suggested. A mega residential real estate deal, involving over 11,000 units on the East Side of Manhattan, this is the third largest transaction of it's kind for New York City, and affects over 25,000 residents in 110 buildings.

Originally constructed to provide affordable housing for returning veterans of World War II, in the sixty years of it's existence, Stuvesant Town has always been an easy choice for young families wanting to make Manhattan home. With spacious layouts, reasonable rents and 12 neighborhood parks, residents have the best of two worlds. They're a short ride from everything New York is famous for, at the same time allowing them to live within an enclave that brings a little bit of the country to them.

As it changes over time, and you can be sure it will, the old Peter Cooper Village/Stuyvesant Town will be missed.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Carnival Challenge

In a challenge to the real estate blogging community, Greg Swann, host of the 13th Edition of The Carnival of Real Estate dared future hosts to demand the best from entrants. In an unprecedented move he suggested poor writing or worse, plagiarized text warranted no serious consideration in what should be "a celebration of weblogging excellence."

Taking up the cause in this week's contest, Inman Blog challenged "our industry bloggers to write consistently compelling copy," and limited exposure to the ten top posts in a week in which he stated there were "a ton of good submissions." His criteria for the competition was the ability to find "a compelling subject appealing to a wide audience, clarity of writing" and in some cases reader discussion. The top three blogs honored this week were Greg's discussion of Buyer Brokerage, Mike Simonsen of Altos Research and his observations of Yahoo Losing Online Real Estate Market Share and The Matrix (Jonathan Miller's) thoughtful piece on The Law of Thirds.

With the competition heating up from week to week and entries increasing exponentially, the gauntlet has indeed been thrown down. If you want to compete in this arena, your post had better be well thought out, irresistibly written and original, because in this venue good just isn't good enough.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Giving It Away? I Don't Think So.

With all the talk about a declining market and a glut of inventory it's a wonder that some homeowners simply haven't gotten the message. Sitting defiantly at prices well above the average and hoping for a miracle, they spend many months, sometimes longer in a market that is passing them by. There is nothing more important than straight talk when taking a listing or explaining to sellers why their property is not getting the attention they think it should. It's not magic. There are two places to be when prices are coming down, at or below recent sales to generate a lot of interest and to sell in a timely fashion or above them playing catch-up, which is tantamount to chasing a snowball down a hill. You can't run fast enough.

Buyers are not plentiful. You no longer have the luxury of sitting back and waiting for the one person who might recognize the intrinsic value in your home. Buyers are out there doing their homework. They're using sites like Zillow and PropertyShark to put them on a level playing field. Though Zillow's numbers are way off in many areas, buyers believe them because they see it in print.

With inventory presenting buyers lots of options, if you have one interested in your home, you would be wise to take them seriously. The days of bidding wars are over and if you think you're giving your house away this year, just wait for 2007. You might find yourself pining for the one that got away.

Author: Geri Sonkin

Friday, October 13, 2006

Friday The Thirteenth -- Unlucky, Why?

In Western culture Friday the thirteen strikes fear in the hearts of many, and Hollywood has done its fair share to exploit it. But have you ever wondered where the superstition began? What is it about this particular combination of day and date that causes us to expect trouble? If one is to go back in history there are many factors that feed into the fear, especially those deeply rooted in Christian theology.

  • There were 12 in attendance at the last supper until Judas appeared as the 13th.
  • Jesus was crucified on a Friday
  • Some believe that the great flood started on a Friday
  • It is also said by some that Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit on a Friday.
  • Sailors, subject to the superstition would never ship out on a Friday, feeling it could only end badly. There is a legend, likely untrue, that a British ship called the H.M.S. Friday, with a captain named Friday set out on it's maiden voyage on . . . you guessed it . . .Friday only to be lost forever.
  • In Norse mythology, Balder was attending a dinner party with 12 guests when the mischievous god Loki appeared as a 13th and killed the beloved hero.
  • Then there was the flight of Apollo 13.

Interestingly Egyptians, believing that life on earth evolved in twelve stages with the happy journey into the afterlife being the thirteenth, thought of the number 13 as lucky.

Whatever bred the superstition, it has taken on a life of it's own.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Sad Day For New York

The fact that it's October 11th played no small part in the sudden fear gripping the hearts of many New Yorkers today as the first word got out about a plane striking a high rise building on the upper east side. "Not again," we gasped, almost in unison. It was sometime between 2:30 and 3:00 when one of the girls in my office got the call from her husband, an EMT in the area. "It can't be," was my first reaction. "There has to be some mistake." Much the same reaction, now that I think about it, as I had on the morning of September 11, 2001 when the first tower was hit.

We scrambled to get more information, turning on the television only to be frustrated by our inability to get any channel on the dish network other than the one explaining their service. Running back upstairs I went to the computer looking for a report, anything that would get rid of the feeling of dread, contemplating a cruel replay of 9/11. As the decibel level of her voice increased, my co worker's terror washed over us like a wave.

The facts of the case turned out to be less sinister but a tragedy indeed, albeit one of a personal nature. It was determined that a Cirrus SR 20 single engine plane owned and piloted by Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle slammed into the north side of the Belaire apartment house at 524 E. 72nd Street. Miraculously nobody in the building or on the ground below where the wreckage came to rest was killed.

Left in the wake of this tragedy, are all those who loved Cory Lidle, his wife and son, his family, team mates and all his adoring fans. To all of them I say my prayers are with you.

Author: Geri Sonkin

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Miracle In The Making on Long Island

They came from everywhere, far and near to bear witness to the miracle of the undecayed heart of a parish priest who would become St. John Vianney. Born into the family of a poor farmer in 1786, he became a priest at the age of 30 after first failing the examinations necessary prior to ordination twice. In the early days he seemed destined for mediocrity as his competency came into question, requiring he be placed under the tutelage of a priest in a neighboring village.

What he lacked in book learning, he more than made up for with the many spiritual gifts he unstintingly shared with all who came to him. Best known for a gift of healing and seeing into the hearts of worshipers, his fame spread through France and crowds sought him out for his advice. He began hearing confessions in the earliest hours of the morning, sometimes spending up to 13 to 17 hours within the confines of the confessional.

In a remarkable and unprecedented act, the heart and chalice of St. John Vianney was brought to an 80 year old church in Merrick, the first of many named in his honor. For five days believers arrived in staggering numbers to experience this once in a lifetime event. They stood in long lines for the chance to pray before the relic, some in the hope of witnessing a miracle. The miracle just might be the tremendous outpouring of faith at a time when the church can use all the positive reinforcement it can get.

As the patron saint of priests, St. John Vianney would appear to be continuing in the service of mankind.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The ABCs Of Buying That First Home

I'm working with a young couple excitedly looking for their first home. We've been exploring the options in their price range while they try to get a handle on the process and find out about the towns they're considering. Like most of their contemporaries, they're very computer literate and on a quest to learn as much as they can before they put their hard earned dollars into an iffy real estate market on Long Island.

There are so many things we, as professionals, take for granted. The terminology of real estate, which we speak every day is as confusing to the uninitiated as learning a foreign language, and consumers have to pick it up in record time to effectively participate in their purchase or sale. With information the key to the kingdom, I have to remind myself on a daily basis to address their concerns and answer the questions I've heard so many times before, hopefully even before they ask. It occurs to me that I should probably write a primer to give them the tools they need to be partners in the process.

Today we discussed the steps they'll take to home ownership. "What happens," they asked, "if we decide to make an offer?" I explained the paperwork involved and the monetary implications. They also seemed surprised that they'll get an inspection done before going to contract. It's important to note here that real estate is area specific, and the way it works in New York is not necessarily how things are done anywhere else in the country.

Feeling a little more comfortable by the time they left, they went home to break down their information overload and determine whether or not they're ready to step up to the plate. Only they know the answer to that one.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Sky Is Falling -- Not!

I'm so tired of the media, playing catch-up in the real estate timeline, engendering fear in the heart's of a wary consumer about just what is happening in the Long Island real estate market. They were late to the party a year ago when they kept insisting prices were continuing to escalate, when even the greenest real estate agent recognized they were coming down and inventory was increasing. It was a long anticipated correction in a market that had taken prices to historic highs.

As I sat having lunch today, I heard a blurb on the news stating that prices in Nassau and Suffolk County were going to be the hardest hit in all of New York, and to expect the end of the free fall no sooner than January of 2008. Since my crystal ball is at the dry cleaner's I could neither confirm nor deny the prognostication. My experience tells me prices have indeed come down, an expected adjustment after years of an ultimately unhealthy climb to astronomical levels.

Sellers need to be realistic and they'd be wise to put their trust in a competent professional to get their homes sold in a timely fashion. They have to accede to the changing market by pricing their properties aggressively and then stepping aside to allow their representatives to market their homes in a way that sets them apart. With homes in no short supply, owners who want to make a move must, more than ever, listen to the voice of the market and make price adjustments if necessary.

Contrary to public perception and the lament of real estate agents who sit and wait for the phone to ring, there are buyers out there searching for and buying homes. Their numbers have dwindled somewhat but there are enough of them to keep our economy moving right along. Unlike the frenzy of the past several years, shoppers have a new found power and they're enjoying the view from the driver's seat. But this too comes with a warning. Enjoy it while it lasts, for the one sure thing about all of this is "this too shall pass."

Author: Geri Sonkin

Monday, October 02, 2006

When The Truth Hurts

Sometimes the hardest thing I have to do is tell the truth. People don't always want to hear it and I don't blame them -- often it can be painful. But I don't know any other way to be. In the world of real estate on Long Island so much has changed over the past year. The long lines of ready, willing and able buyers no longer stand, checkbook in hand, ready to outbid each other just to get their piece of the American dream. They're out there, by all means, but in smaller numbers and are much more wary about trading their security for the uncertainty of a lower market.

How do you answer "What is my house worth today," when you sold it to them at the top of the market a few short years ago and the current owner unexpectedly has to make a move? Though it pains me, I tell them the truth. They paid a fair price at the time, but conditions have changed and they're going to take a loss. Hopefully they're moving to another market in which prices have leveled off. Then at least they come out the winner on the buy side.

Probably even harder than that is walking in to a home when you don't know the sellers. They've found me on the internet, or heard of me locally. Many owners haven't caught up with the lower prices even with the media blitz, they focus instead on what their neighbor or friend got last year and have an unrealistic expectation. If I play to their belief, I'll probably get the listing, but then I would have to convince them to reduce the price I agreed was realistic, in order to get the house sold. Not fair . . . and it's a game I won't play.