Market stays on lively pace

Homes: Despite some adverse conditions, prospective sellers are forgoing the help of Realtors and buyers remain eager to find the perfect home.

April 23, 2000|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN REAL ESTATE EDITOR

The Sunday drive begins with the battle gear resting on the car's passenger seat: a street map and a newspaper in which a highlighter has pinpointed the open houses.

After a few stops, it doesn't take long to get a sense of what's happening on the front lines of Baltimore's real estate market.

There are the anxious for-sale-by-owner types, the FSBOs, brazenly going it alone without the help of a real estate broker. Then there is the couple with their year-old son, regretting they didn't buy sooner when they thought they had found the perfect home. And the wife whose frustration with the maddening pace of the market was finally put to rest when a contract she and her husband submitted was accepted.

Last Sunday, Michael Meyer was sitting on the front porch steps of his Towson home with his son, Stefan, and wife, Maridsa, enjoying the sunshine.

There were cookies and lemonade awaiting potential buyers for their three-bedroom, two-bath home that sits in the popular Rodgers Forge school district, which makes the house a hot property.

"I've sold two houses in the past and have used the same Realtor," Michael Meyer said. "I know he does a good job, but with the market being this strong, why not at least try this first?"

He bought the 60-year-old house that backs to St. Joseph Medical Center eight years ago for $175,000. He's asking $225,000, and in the first weekend that he has held his house open, he said, he's gotten 25 calls.

"The market definitely motivated me. I felt this was the best time for getting the best price," he said. "We have people sitting in traffic [going to St. Joseph], seeing the sign and calling from their cars.

"Of course, the reason why we didn't use a Realtor was because of the fees. You're talking about $15,000. We're planning on buying some property and some land, and that extra $15,000 is a lot. There are things that you can do with the extra money."

By week's end, Meyer said, he had rejected two offers from buyers who had to sell their homes before they could buy his. Yesterday, he had scheduled another open house, and he's prepared to do likewise this coming weekend, if he needs to.

A few miles north in Sparks, Saeed Ghahramani, the dean of science and mathematics at Towson University, is taking a crash course in being a real estate agent, trying to sell his Loveton Farms townhouse for $172,500.

Ghahramani and his wife, Lili, who bought the townhouse new 11 years ago for $142,500, are moving to Massachusetts. Ghahramani is taking a position as dean of arts and sciences at Western New England College.

"Originally, we had no intention to sell it by ourselves," Ghahramani said. "I interviewed two real estate agents, and most of our friends and neighbors told us there was no need to sell through a Realtor, because it is a seller's market and we can sell it ourselves very easy."

They said that they had almost 10 people come through the house but are awaiting an offer, and they plan to have another open house this weekend and next before turning it over to a broker. The couple admit that they "are not comfortable" with handling a transaction but are relying on assurances of support from neighbors.

Tom Mooney, an agent with the Timonium office of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA, understands the flourishing of the FSBO market.

"I have seen more people using the discount brokers, I have seen more of that going on," Mooney said of those firms that for a flat fee will place a home in the multiple listing database used by brokers. "And in this market, that is not a problem with the sellers. I would do it myself if I had the wherewithal to understand the contracts."

The FSBO market is just another avenue Mooney taps to be able to find a house for one of his buyers.

"We provide a service for people, we find them the right house," he said. "Most of these FSBOs, they will compensate an agent. ... They just don't feel like paying the whole boat [traditionally 6 percent or 7 percent of the purchase price], if they don't have to."

When this year began, most industry experts didn't believe that the existing homes market could maintain its hectic pace of the previous year, the best in a decade in Baltimore, with almost 31,000 homes sold. Indeed, it hasn't, with year-to-date sales declining slightly more than 4 percent. However, March's pending sales, an indication of future activity, rose 4.46 percent over the same period last year, indicating that the demand for housing remains vibrant.

The pool of buyers, according to agents, continues to overflow, because the inventory of homes to choose from has dwindled to its lowest point in five years.

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