The number of “For Sale” signs lining Newtown streets may be a misleading indicator of the health of home sales in the community, said Newtown Board of Realtors President Eileen Brooks. “There are multiple homes on the market at any time, but our average listing right now is only about 130 days on the market,” she said, Friday, September 14. That means that on average, For Sale signs will be posted about four months. Because it is beneficial to realtors to have their name out there as long as possible, signs that include the agent’s name are usually left up until a day or two after the closing, she said.
There are those homes that have not been properly prepared for sale and are lingering on the market, and those signs remain in place much longer, along with the signs rotating in and out as homes go up for sale and do sell.
“Shadow inventory” may also cause a steady number of For Sale signs to appear. “When a bank owns several properties that are short sale [when seller and bank agree on a sales price less than the amount owed]) or foreclosure, it is not in their best interest to flood the market all at once,” Ms Brooks explained, so this “shadow inventory” comes on the market at intervals. There are many short sales in the listings, she said, and some foreclosures, although those numbers are beginning to dwindle.
There are currently 297 homes in the Newtown/Sandy Hook inventory that were put on the market the past 12 months, an increase of 9.2 percent for sale over 2011. However, home sales have also increased.
“This August, in Newtown and Sandy Hook, 26 homes sold, compared to 20 homes in August of 2011,” said Ms Brooks, an increase of 30 percent. In the 12 months prior, 284 homes sold, compared to 226 for the time period ending August 2011, which is an increase of 25.7 percent.
The highest percentage of homes selling is in the $500,000 to $625,000 range, with 23 percent of the market. Close behind, at just under 23 percent of the market, are homes in the $250,000 to $374,000 price range. Twenty percent of the sales locally are homes priced between $375,000 and $499,000. Except for a little bubble in high end sales last year, those percentages have remained stable over the years, she said.
The market five years ago was wildly unrealistic, Ms Brooks pointed out. “I think we are returning to a more normal market,” she said. There may not be the enormous dollar increase today that sellers saw then, but sellers are also reminded not to discount the enjoyment level of a home they have lived in.
“Newtown is not in a decreasing market anymore,” Ms Brooks stated. As recently as 2011, people were afraid to buy because they believed that prices would continue to fall. “The increased sales we have seen this year correlates to the increased consumer confidence we are seeing, and the stabilization of the Newtown market,” she said. Interest rates are also at the lowest they have been since the 1950s, hovering around 3.5 percent.
Since last year, sales in the community have consistently been 95 percent list to sale price. Buyers have been educated by and are heeding the advice of realtors, said Ms Brooks, and sellers are listening.
Minding The Details
Attention to detail is crucial when selling a home, she stressed. “Buyers can be very particular now, because there is a lot to choose from,” she pointed out. From the moment a potential buyer pulls into the driveway, a home is being assessed. Property must be weeded, bushes trimmed, lawns mowed.
“Paint the garage door, and make sure the trim is painted. Pull into your driveway and critique your home from a buyer’s point of view. You don’t want to lose a buyer before they even go through the door,” she urged. “Make it as perfect as possible.”
By depersonalizing the interior of family photos and knick-knacks, a buyer can better imagine him or herself in the space. “You’re going to moving anyway, so you might as well box it all up and store it neatly and out of the way,” said Ms Brooks. “Make the exterior and interior so that any buyer can imagine him or herself there,” she said.
The Internet has become a valuable tool in real estate, for both buyers and sellers, Ms Brooks said. “Eighty percent-plus go online before ever contacting an agent. Buyers come well versed in what to expect in the market, and sellers have fewer Sunday or late evening showings, which they like, because potential buyers preview properties online. “It’s the perfect way to screen homes,” she said, with agents then able to pinpoint exactly what a buyer is seeking.
Before people even visit Newtown, they know all about it. “The Internet has made all of our town and school statistics available to buyers. They already know they want to be here, now it is just finding the right agent and the right home,” she said.
Relocation companies tend to work with particular agents, and referrals are still the best way to find a compatible agent when moving in-town. The Internet, again, she said, is beneficial in providing people with complete information about an agent’s skills, experience, and sales record.
A ballpark figure of the amount of money a bank or mortgage company is apt to loan an individual can also be obtained online, and may people are preapproved online before house hunting, a process that agents now require.
“One of the largest obstacles interfering with home sales right now is appraisals,” said Ms Brooks. Banks are appraising homes lower than the Newtown market will bear. “Deals fall apart when that happens,” she said. She does not believe this means that the Newtown market is priced too high, but rather that banks are being very conservative.
“Realtors are now hiring appraisers before they list a home, to avoid that happening,” she said.
Ms Brooks, who is an agent with the William Raveis Real Estate agency in Newtown and who has been a realtor for 13 years, said that she and other realtors in town are pleased to see more in-town moves again this year. “We haven’t seen that in a few years. That’s a vote of confidence. These are people who don’t have to move, but choose to move,” she said. And most of those moves are upward. “It’s a really nice sign,” Ms Brooks said.
“We are also seeing some new construction of individual lots, again, something we have not seen in a few years. That,” she said, “is good news for the builders.”
The bonus for buyers and sellers in Newtown, said Ms Brooks, is the cooperation among realtors. “In this specific town we have something special. We all compete for the same business, but work in a climate of cooperation, and that only helps to have comfortable negotiations and closings. It’s a pleasure.
“Overall,” she said, “I am more buoyant [about the Newtown housing market] than I’ve felt in years.”