The Short List

Despite the downturn, some houses are not staying on the market for long

August 10, 2008|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun reporter

On the first Friday night in June, real estate agent Jessica Lori sat at her client's dining room table with two offers for Sherry Lynn Burke's Canton townhouse.

Both were above the listing price and both had arrived in less than two weeks of the house's going on the market.

Burke, who figured she'd be keeping her residence museum-perfect all summer, was happily stunned.

They'd competitively listed the house at $223,500. It sold in 11 days for $226,000. At the time, more than 200 houses in the area were on the market, many for more than 100 days, said Lori, an agent with Long & Foster's Towson office.

Some homes in all price ranges are selling fast, despite market woes. Metropolitan Regional Information Systems data shows that in recent months, about one-third of the homes that sold did so within 30 days of hitting the market. That's fewer than at the peak of the market, but hardly inconsequential, agents say.

The homes' magic: They stand out. Buyers perceive them as solid values, distinctive and inviting.

"It's not 2004 or '06," said Michael Yerman of Yerman Witman Gaines & Conklin Realty in Baltimore, recalling the years of fast price escalation, when buyers gobbled up houses at any price in any condition. Price has to be appropriate for the house, community, what else is vying for buyers' attention, he said.

Yerman tells sellers their homes have to be clean, neat and uncluttered to show well. "You know the feeling when you open the door and it's so wonderful that you gasp." No weird smells. Freshly painted if necessary.

Burke's three-bedroom Federal-style house was move-in ready. Because she didn't know if she'd be staying or selling, in the past year or so she'd redone the bathroom and kitchen. In mid-spring, she decided to sell.

"I had a handyman come in and look through the house," she said. Small repairs and replacements were done.

Lori suggested some changes.

"Jessica was very nice about it, but she said, you know, no man is going to want to sleep in this girlie-green bedroom," Burke said. It went to a sand tone.

A bedroom Burke used as a den was shown as a bedroom to reinforce the three-bedroom aspect.

"We staged the extra bedroom," Lori said. "We put a bed in it, with pillows. It was just a blowup bed."

Burke added a bureau that was on its way to her mother's house.

Nearly a quarter of the furniture and random items went out the door, opening up the space. Even the cats were relocated.

The women agreed on a list price that would lure potential buyers, but was not the area's lowest. The home had one bathroom; many others in the area had two or added a powder room. But down to the new carpeting, this house had been prepared for a new owner.

What the buyers saw, said their agent, Jo Zuramski, also of Long & Foster's Towson office, was a move-in ready house with historic charm and exposed brick walls in the neighborhood they sought, and at an appealing price.

"And she liked, of course, the fact that it was so well-maintained. It was a good value," Zuramski said.

That the list price was slightly below some comparables led to a bidding war. The house appraised for a little more than the purchase price.

For some buyers, it's not what they see in the house, it's how they perceive it.

Iris Bierlein saw a condo with pastel-tone walls, the rooms filled with Williamsburg style furnishings - neither her taste. The bathrooms said 1980s.

But then, she was there not to see the Devon Hill condo, but to meet her agent at the condo's open house for real estate brokers. They planned to drive around the area to continue Bierlein's search for a single-family house nearby.

A few minutes into the car ride, Bierlein told Del Schmidt of Baltimore's Chase Fitzgerald & Co. that she wanted the townhouse-style condo they'd just left.

"I said, OK, we have to put in an offer. We have to do it before somebody else does," Bierlein said. She offered full price, $565,000. Two days later, the condo was hers.

Schmidt believed the condo, part of the original mansion, was reasonably priced, had "nice flow" and a great setting.

What Bierlein perceived was this: She'd have her own entrance, a basement and an attic. She could repaint. She loved the old mansion's high ceilings, transoms and two porches. She'd update the bathrooms in her own style - but keep the claw-foot tub with pink toenails.

The sun streamed in through windows with views of gardens she wouldn't have to take care of. The place seemed to come alive - maybe it was the psychology of fresh flowers, she said - and exude warmth. She imagined her modern furniture in the rooms.

"I'm living in a house that just happens to be snuggled up to another one," she said. "I have the security of having others around, but it's private."

The Monkton landmark Clynmalira is the grand 185-year-old home of Henry Carroll, the great-great-grandson of Declaration of Independence signer Charles Carroll.

The setting, views and interior are one of a kind. It was under contract within a day of being listed at $2.395 million.

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