Archive for March, 2008

Back to the future in North Central Phoenix? In the Missouri corridor, 1322 East Vermont Avenue is as cool as the Phoenix of the fifties

Phoenix is the best-named city in the wild and wooly West. We are the Thunderbird, rising always anew from our ashes, a constant state of reinvention. Surging ever outward — and lately even upward — we are too much the City of Tomorrow ever to spare a thought for the city we were yesterday.

And yet…

That city we were yesterday had its charms… Mostly we recall them through the good offices of PBS Channel 8. At fund-raising time, we get to catch a few brief glimpses of the Phoenix we paved over decades ago. A Phoenix where kids played in the street and swam in each other’s backyard pools. Where their older brothers and sisters cruised Central Avenue — ragtops down and the radios all tuned to the same station. Between the dusty little nineteenth-century town of Phoenix and the vast megalopolis that Phoenix has become, there was a shady oasis in the desert where prosperous people perfected the fine art of suburban living.

Here’s the good news: It’s still there. Everything changes in Phoenix, it seems like every day. But North Central Phoenix endures. In the late forties, through the fifties and early sixties, as Phoenix was surging outward in its first great growth spurts, some very wise people built big, sturdy homes right in the heart of everything. On both sides of Central, between the Canals, North Central Phoenix took root in the desert soil — and took root in the hearts of the people who built it.

Land that had been irrigated orange groves became rich irrigated lawns instead. And the trees that grew from that water spread a thick canopy of shade over the land. And houses made of concrete block were built one-by-one — modern and roomy, with high-ceilings and wide-open sight lines. And big back yards. And pools and barbecues and basketball hoops and volleyball nets.

And here’s the even better news: You can have a house just like that. There aren’t very many to be had, and North Central can be a pricey neighborhood. But the house we’re talking about, 1322 East Vermont Avenue, in the Madison United Neighborhood along the Missouri Avenue corridor, is everything you could wish for in a mid-century modern ranch home in North Central Phoenix — at a price you can afford.

My job is to sell houses — you didn’t know? — but we don’t sell homes we don’t love. We want to understand the houses we represent like works of art, each one unique and unrepeatable. The web site for this home features hundreds of photos, and we even went so far as to build a virtual coffee table book for this property, so that you can send it off to friends and family.

There’s so much more I could talk about, but that’s why we built such an elaborate web site for this home, so that you can see absolutely everything there is to know about it. We’ve always built an interactive floorplan into our web sites, but for 1322 East Vermont, for the first time, we’ve also built in a virtual remodeling feature. I happen to think that kitchen rocks the way it is, but if you’d like to try a different look, the virtual remodeling software makes it easy.

I could go on all day, but — let’s face it — a house either sells itself or it doesn’t. What we have is a spacious, well-kept mid-century modern ranch home on a big irrigated lot in the Missouri Avenue corridor of North Central Phoenix. You’re minutes from Downtown, seconds from the Biltmore. If you’re in love with an older Phoenix, or with that flaming Thunderbird that was always born just yesterday, this home is not for you. But if you long for that Phoenix of the fifties, that cool and comfortable suburban lifestyle perfected by our parents — give me a call. You don’t have to wait around for the fund-raisers on Channel 8. That shady oasis of a Phoenix still exists — and it can be yours…

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If you don’t have to sell into the current Phoenix real estate market — don’t. But what if you do have to sell…?

This is my column for this week from the Arizona Republic (permanent link):

 
If you don’t have to sell into the current Phoenix real estate market — don’t. But what if you do have to sell…?

Here’s a piece of real estate marketing advice that should be obvious: If you don’t have to sell your house right now, don’t.

If you are living in your home — or if you are an investor and you have a tenant — and you are making your payments and don’t have any exigent need to sell — sit tight.

We are probably nearing the bottom of the downturn in Phoenix, but the path to the bottom is likely to be pretty steep. If you don’t have to compete against deeply-discounted lender-owned homes, don’t.

Will the market go back up after we hit bottom? Eventually, yes. How long is eventually? It could be a long while. But prices should stabilize after the bank-owned inventory has cleared the market. What you can get for your home may not be all you want, but you won’t be facing competition priced 20% or 30% less.

But suppose you do have to move right now. You’ve taken a job out of state or you have a pressing financial need and need to tap your equity. How can you compete effectively against the lender-owned homes in your neighborhood?

The bad news is, the price pressure on you is still downward, and probably will be for longer than you can afford to wait. That means you cannot set your price above the market and hope for an offer anyway. If you price your home above the recent high sales for your floorplan — where recent means the past 60 days — your home might not show at all. There is simply too much inventory for buyers to bother with an overpriced home.

The good news is that the lender-owned homes are almost certainly trashed. Filthy, in bad repair, with overgrown lawns. Investors know those problems are easily addressed, but owner-occupants want turn-key homes.

That works to your advantage. If you are willing to put your home in turn-key condition — everything in first-rate repair, squeaky clean and staged beautifully — your home can still command a much higher price than the nearby foreclosure properties.

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Who says we sell nothing but half-million dollar homes? 3527 West Quail Avenue in Glendale, AZ, can be yours for $60,000

We list more than our share of pricey homes, that’s a fact. I sometimes list all over the Valley for my investor clients, but Cathleen Collins has made a specialty — and an artform — out of listing remarkable homes: Historic, architecturally-distinctive and mid-century modern luxury homes. We’re often found in that half-million-and-up price range — and that’s a comfortable place for us to exercise the kind of marketing tools we like to deploy when we list a home for sale.

So what does it mean when we list a double-wide mobile-home in last rustic neighborhood in Glendale? The newspapers are full of starving Realtor stories. Are we so desperate for work that we’re listing for ten cents on our usual dollar?

Not quite. The listing itself is family — Cathleen’s sister’s husband’s mother. But we know we can do a better job on a home like this than the average mobile-home lister. There are things we would normally do that just don’t make sense for a home at this price. But building a web site for the home makes perfect sense to us.

The home is what it is, and we can’t puff it to be something else. The structure needs help, and our listing copy acknowledges this fact. But the land and the surrounding area are incomparable, some of the last bits of desert available this close to town. And these are the kinds of ideas we can bring out in the web site and on the home’s color flyers.

In some ways our listing this home is kind of funny. For example, the house is in rough-enough shape that we took no photos at all of the interior of the home, where normally we would take hundreds. But this house was a sweet lady’s dream home, and it is her financial nest egg even now. If we can help her get the most money she can for her home — that’s our job, a job we love to do regardless of the house we’re working with or its sales price.

But take careful note: The purpose of real estate marketing is to sell real estate. If you’re interested in picking up a quarter-acre of raw desert at a bargain price, take a look at the web site for 3527 West Quail Avenue in Glendale, AZ — and then give me a call. This property is primed for its next chapter, and you could be its author.

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In the Metropolitan Phoenix real estate market, our long, slow slide in home prices is finally encountering demand

This is my column for this week from the Arizona Republic (permanent link):

 
In the Metropolitan Phoenix real estate market, our long, slow slide in home prices is finally encountering demand

If you’ve been looking for the bottom of the Phoenix real estate market, it might well be upon us.

The world beyond our control — Washington and Wall Street — is so volatile right now that it’s hard for anyone to make plans.

The Federal Reserve Bank is determined to keep markets liquid, so its own interest rates are heading back toward record lows. The investment banks that brokered the mortgage-backed securities that made sub-prime loans possible are in turmoil. Meanwhile, Congress is desperate to do something — which will almost certainly make things worse.

The interesting thing about all that chaos is that it seems to be isolated to the real estate market. The larger economy is growing so fast that the twitterpated monetary policies of the Fed seem not to have had much of an impact.

That’s a good thing, and let’s hope things stay that way.

Meanwhile, in the world we have some control over — the local real estate market in Metropolitan Phoenix — our long, slow slide in prices is finally encountering demand.

Because so many people wanted to buy houses in Phoenix, our builders gleefully over-built the Valley. This caused the glut of inventory we have been trying to absorb over the past nine quarters.

Many of the resale homes that have languished on the market are by now short sales or have been taken back by the bank. Lenders don’t want to own houses, so they’re cutting prices until the homes get sold.

At the same time, our reliable inflow of population, along with investors and second-home buyers, is there to absorb these newly-affordable homes. The snow belt just got belted with its worst winter in memory, which will bring even more newcomers to Phoenix.

It could be we’ll be back to normal inventory levels fairly soon. The bad news? If your home is for sale, the price it will sell for right now is probably quite a bit lower than you think it should be. If you don’t have to move now, you might be better off staying put for a year or two.

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Your rental home in Phoenix will generate positive cash flow — but will it appreciate in the coming years?

This is from my Arizona Republic column (permanent link):

It’s still a buyer’s market out there, but is it an investor’s market? The answer to that turns on three other issues: Vacancies, values and cash flows.

Lenders get all the blame for the downturn in home values, but that’s not entirely fair. Another big share of the blame goes to the builders, who built new homes far beyond any reasonable estimate of demand. So, even though folks who might have gotten home loans two or three years ago are stuck renting for a while longer, is there enough tenant demand to keep a rental home profitably occupied?

Even if there is, will the prices of Valley homes continue their decline? This seems likely, at least in the near term. There is still a tremendous amount of inventory in the MLS system. The best bargains, though, are houses that are in the foreclosure process. These can be hard to wrest away from lenders, but they may be a leading indicator of the bottom of the market.

More significantly, will a rental purchased at a bargain price throw off positive cash flow? Unequivocally: Yes. To qualify for an investor loan, you will need to have great credit and a 20% down payment. But interest rates are still very low, and rents have held up just fine through the downturn.

So the big bet boils down to this one question: If you buy a rental home in the Phoenix market now, will you be able to sell it at a significant profit eight or ten years from now?

Alas, no one can predict the future. If you pick the right rental home — good house, good location, good orientation, easy access to schools, playgrounds, shopping, freeways and jobs — it should rent well now and resell well later. If you get the right loan and don’t refinance, your income property will actually produce income — which means it will pay for itself and still throw off a few bucks a day in cash profits.

But will it appreciate in the forthcoming years? For the answer to that question, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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How do you get visitors to come to your home’s custom weblog? Shoe leather works well. Search engines? Not so much…

This is my column for this week from the Arizona Republic (permanent link):

 
How do you get visitors to come to your home’s custom weblog? Shoe leather works well. Search engines? Not so much…

Okay, so you’ve built a custom weblog to help sell your home, and you’ve dressed it up with photos, a map, a floorplan — every bit of content you could think of. Now what?

Your home now has a twenty-four-hour salesperson on the internet. How do you go about getting potential buyers to visit your blog?

Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is not search engines. For one thing, your site is brand new. The search engines don’t even know it exists. Even if you manage to get indexed, you won’t have the kind of popularity to bring you to the top of search results for your keywords.

But there is an even more compelling reason why search engines won’t be much help to you: Visitors brought in by search engines are very loosely motivated. Many will have been looking for something else entirely, so they will bounce right back off your site in seconds flat.

Your objective in promoting your weblog is to target people who are motivated to buy your home — or who know someone who is motivated to buy your home. Your job is not to broadcast your appeal to everyone but to narrowcast to just those people who can do you the most good.

You’ll put notices about your weblog anywhere online that you can — Zillow.com, Trulia.com, CraigsList.com, local weblogs supporting nearby schools, little league teams, etc. But your primary promotional strategy is going to be offline — person to person.

We print business card-sized promotional pieces to advertise our open houses. These are distributed to every house in the neighborhood, since the neighbors may know someone who wants to live nearby.

During the school day, there will be more than 100 cars in the school parking lot, most of them driven there from out of the neighborhood. Some of those folks are sick of commuting.

Most local retailers will have some kind of bulletin board. Your cards belong there.

Your buyers probably won’t find your home on a search engine. But if you manage your promotion right, your house will be sold long before that matters.

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A thoughtful reminder to the home-schooling parents of California: Arizona is the most home-schooling-friendly state in the west, our homes are affordable, our weather is delightful and our state government pretty much minds its own business

Unbelievably, home-schooling has been outlawed in California. We would love it if California home-schoolers were to call us for help in relocating to Arizona. But however you get here — get here. You have a right to school your own — and Arizona knows it.

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Dress up that custom weblog you’ve built to help sell your home

This is my column for this week from the Arizona Republic (permanent link):

 
Dress up that custom weblog you’ve built to help sell your home

Last week we built a custom weblog to help you sell your home. This week, let’s dress it up a little.

Some of the things I’ll be talking about are free, but others cost money. Your Realtor may have a marketing budget, so that could be a source of funding. But even if not, with only a few buyers chasing a very large number of homes, stinting on marketing costs may not be your best strategy.

Here’s something you can do for free: Go to Google Maps and build a map to your home. At a minimum, you should also provide driving directions from the nearest freeway exit. But, if you sign up for a free Google account, you can link to an elaborate custom map for your home.

Highlight parks, playgrounds, schools and shopping. Saying anything at all about churches might invite Fair Housing complaints, but you can draw attention to other nearby amenities. Even better, you can attach pictures and internet links to your map markers, so that buyers can really get a feel for the neighborhood.

Online real estate sites like Zillow.com and Trulia.com want to know that your home is for sale. You can add photos to those sites and link back to your custom weblog, which will bring you more traffic. On Zillow.com, you can “claim” your home, updating details on any upgrades you have made to it.

We like to use floorplans. You might be able to get one to scan (or better yet, an Adobe PDF file) from your home’s builder. We use a company called FloorPlansFirst.com because they make interactive web-based floorplans. Buyers can move their furniture into the home to see how it will fit. This costs money, but it sells houses.

For virtual tours, we’re switching to Obeo.com. Their tours cost more, but they offer a category-killer feature: Virtual redecorating. Your buyers can discover how much they’re going to love your house after they’ve remodeled the kitchen and repainted the exterior.

And the only stronger commitment a buyer can make is a purchase contract and a fat check.

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