Selecting a real estate broker is becoming a complicated process. The age of specialization has changed the industry.
In today's competitive market, many brokers feel they must offer specialized service or some kind of unique marketing "hook" to attract a continuing flow of new business contacts.
For example, California Realtor Kay Wilson-Bolton applied for and was recently accepted as a qualified third-party contractor for the Resolution Trust Corp. As such, she can now participate in the management and sale of properties owned by failed thrift institutions.
"Being an RTC-approved broker allows us to participate in another realm of real estate activity," Ms. Wilson-Bolton said. "The qualification process is lengthy and detailed. And even though we have not yet sold an RTC property, I feel the time and effort required to be RTC-approved is well worth it."
Nationally, there are about 80,000 approved contractors (brokers and others) in the RTC data base, according to Kevin Shields, an RTC representative.
As another specialized service, Ms. Wilson-Bolton provides "forensic testimony" in real estate matters. She has testified at a number of court proceedings where the case called for a real estate expert -- assisting attorneys in building a strong case for their clients.
"Participating in these cases is sometimes like being in a science fiction drama," she said. "It's often a fascinating experience."
Cal-West Real Estate/Better Homes and Gardens, another broker firm, uses their national franchise affiliation to attract new business contacts.
"People like the idea of using a firm with a strong and recognizable national connection," said Jim Garfield, broker-owner of the firm. "And with an association with Better Homes and Gardens, we have instant name recognition with a popular publication that has been around for nearly a century."
Being a member of a major franchise can be costly for a brokerage firm. In the case of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Service, member brokers pay a percentage of gross revenues from the sale of residential properties (the amount determined on a sliding scale) plus 2 percent for national advertising.
Mr. Garfield believes it's money well spent, giving him an edge on competition.
"It not only gives us that needed recognition but provides our associates with good educational programs and referral capability."
Yet another type of "new business hook" is planned by First National Realty. A guaranteed-sale program for home sellers is in the works, according to First National Executive Haven Burke. When implemented, it will allow sales associates to tell prospective homeowner-sellers, "If we can't sell it within a reasonable time period, we'll buy it."
The firm also is planning a swing loan (or bridge loan) program for homebuyers. This will provide interim financing during the delicate time the buyer is "swinging" his ownership from one home to another.
These are all techniques being used by brokerage firms to successfully compete in the 1992 market. Even though the special services or incentives may not be needed by some property buyers and sellers, it attracts attention and helps to establish the firm's reputation as an active, progressive provider of real estate services.
Q: Where are home prices increasing most rapidly?
A: The three cities where prices jumped the most during 1991 are far from each other, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors.
In Bradenton, Fla., home prices increased 20.3 percent -- to a median price of $84,900. In Spokane, Wash., prices increased 17.8 percent to $66,900. In Des Moines, Iowa, prices increased 14.8 percent to $71,300.
The cities where home prices decreased the most were Honolulu, Hartford, Conn., and Middlesex/Somerset/Hunt, N.Y.
Q: Where are prices of residential lots the highest?
A: I haven't seen a comparison report on lot prices specifically. But a small community high in the Rocky Mountains is a good candidate.
The other day I received a letter from a broker friend in Aspen, Colo., one Bob Ritchie with Coates, Reid & Waldron. He mentioned recent lot sales prices that made most other area prices seem like bargain-basement specials.
He said nine building sites (undeveloped lots) were sold in the Aspen area within the previous two weeks. Their average price was $1,321,000. He also noted that the fastest-selling properties in the Aspen area are luxury homes priced over $3 million.
Q: What is the Accessible Housing Campaign?
A: It's a recently organized campaign to promote more and better housing for physically impaired or older Americans. Proclamations launching the campaign have been signed by President Bush and the governors of 33 states. The campaign is designed to increase public awareness of the need for barrier-free housing, helping the public identify accessible and adaptable housing. It also will supply information on how Americans can make their homes more accessible.
Seventy percent of Americans will need some form of accessible housing sometime in their lives as a result of natural aging or a temporary or permanent disability, according to campaign organizers.
Q: Is it true that a new supply of no-down-payment mortgage loan funds are now available to homebuyers in rural areas and small towns?
A: Yes. Congress has expanded the rural mortgage program in all 50 states, approving nearly $330 million in funding for 30-year, fixed-rate, no-down-payment loans for qualified home buyers.