Buyer's market frustrates owners

HOME-SELLING ORDEAL

September 06, 1992|By Ed Van Herik | Ed Van Herik,Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES -- By the time Ginny Pace Russell put her home up for sale in August 1991, she had no more illusions about the real estate market.

After attempting to sell her home twice before, she knew that the two-story town house wasn't going to go for the $300,000 her neighbors said it was worth, and that it wouldn't be snapped up quickly either.

Ms. Russell, who once turned down an offer of thousands more than she finally settled for, went through periods of frustration, resentment and depression before selling her home earlier this month.

For home owners familiar with the buying frenzy of a few years ago, today's market is more than a bit baffling.

Then, there were plenty of buyers and double-digit appreciation; now there is a glut of available property and price-cutting has become the only way to attract purchasers.

"We had reduced the price several times," said Ms. Russell's real estate agent, Pat Sladky of Century 21 Victory Realty in the Los Angeles area of Woodland Hills. "It's just that the market went down steadily ahead of us."

In many ways, Ms. Russell's experience offers a telling illustration of what many sellers face today, and in all likelihood, for months to come.

"Each time when I made up my mind to sell I would think, 'Boy, this is going to be it,' " said Ms. Russell. "Then I'd have to deal with each day as it passed [with no sale.] I'm glad it's over."

Originally, the Russells bought their suburban Encino town house in 1975 for $69,500 when three of their five children had moved out of their five-bedroom house. Built only a year-and-a-half earlier, the town house had a brick facade, three bedrooms, a den and a bay window in the master bedroom. It was better suited to the needs of a smaller family, Ms. Russell said.

At that time, the street pretty much reflected the San Fernando Valley's unpretentious roots: several vacant lots and a number of small ranch homes. But over the years, the ranch homes were replaced with condominiums and apartment complexes.

In 1987, she and her husband divorced, leaving her alone in the three-bedroom home.

By 1989, Ms. Russell was growing weary of the responsibilities of home ownership. She already had replaced the air-conditioning and heating units and the kitchen disposal. She dreaded the thought of what might be the next appliance to break.

After visiting her family over Christmas, she returned home to find rain water leaking through the ceiling and soaking the rugs. "Little surprises like that were beginning to get to me," she said.

Her monthly association dues had climbed from $45 in 1975 to $205 in 1992. And much of the dues money was used for upkeep on the pool and other amenities that Russell no longer used very often.

When Ms. Russell first put her 1,890-square-foot town house up for sale in October 1989, she thought her long-time residence would sell quickly at an attractive price.

While the red-hot real estate market was winding down, home sellers still heard tales of quick sales at good prices. Ms. Russell knew that a town house in the same Encino complex had recently sold for better than $300,000. She priced hers at $289,000.

Her real estate agent held open houses, advertised the property and listed it in the Multiple Listing Service, where brokers look for available properties.

"Three people came to see it right at the tail end of the so-called boom," Ms. Russell said. "I got one offer at $255,000 and I said, 'No, I'm not going to give it away.' "

The property drew a steady stream of prospective buyers, Ms. Sladky said. Then, in January, interest began to fade.

Though Ms. Russell's real estate agent told her the market was souring, she decided not to lower the selling price. Ms. Russell listened to her neighbors who kept telling her the town house was worth around $300,000.

"That's the thing that's very hard to get in your head," Ms. Russell said. "You can think your home is worth whatever you want, but that's not the same as what the market will say."

Because she wasn't under any urgent pressure to sell, Ms. Russell decided she would try to remain detached from the emotional ups and downs that home owners often experience. Still, she did start making plans.

"The first time I was counting the [profit] I would have left, and what I was going to do with this wonderful windfall," Ms. Russell said, whose mortgage almost was paid off.

But with no other offers, she took her home off the market in April 1990. By August, she was ready to try again, after cutting her asking price to $275,000.

This time, she spent about $4,500 sprucing the place up with repainting, new rugs and other cosmetic touches. "My thinking was, the brighter look will help it sell and if it doesn't [sell], it will be nicer to live in," said Ms. Russell.

Once again, open houses were held and the home was relisted in the Multiple Listing Service.

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