It was a busy week for economic news, much of it encouraging. Perhaps the most positive data came out on Friday, showing that U.S. consumers grew more confident in May than a month earlier as declining gasoline prices helped lift Americans’ spirits.

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan final index of consumer sentiment increased faster than expected to a three-month high of 74.3 from 69.8 in April. Economists had forecast a reading of 72.4, the same as the preliminary figure issued earlier this month, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey.

The upward trend is encouraging for those in the housing market. As real estate people know all too well, consumer confidence plays a critical role in the housing market. If buyers are positive about their job prospects and the overall economy, they’re more likely to take the leap into buying a home or trading up to a larger one.

Also encouraging: U.S. corporate earnings continue to improve. In a new report, Deutsche Bank said that earnings for the first quarter beat analyst median forecast by a full 50%. Earnings for the three-month period surged 18 percent year-over-year, far exceeding the 12 percent expectation at the beginning of the quarter.

This marked the ninth consecutive quarter of sequential earnings growth. Earnings were driven by cyclical sectors such as Materials (up 55 percent), Energy (up 40 percent) and Industrials (34 percent). Altogether, revenues rose by a healthy 9 percent for the quarter, an indication that earnings were not solely driven by cost cutting, a very good sign.

But despite the overall improvement in the economy and the financial markets, the nation’s housing market overall continues to struggle to gain momentum. Pending sales of existing U.S. homes dropped more than expected in April to touch a seven-month low, the National Association of Realtors reported on Friday.

NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index dropped 11.6 percent to 81.9 in April, the lowest since September. Pending home sales lead existing home sales by a month or two. Economists, who had expected pending home sales to fall 1.0 percent last month, said bad weather in some parts of the country might have affected home shopping.

So what to make of the mixed bag? Overall, the nation’s economic recovery is moving forward, albeit at a modest pace. Nationally, the housing market is fighting to work through the overhang of foreclosed and distressed properties. It’s not easy, and will take time. But it will happen.

However, more than ever, real estate is about location, location, location. Things are far better here in Colorado. The overall market is much more stable than elsewhere in the nation, and in some pockets, actually fairly robust.

To learn more specifically, take a look at the latest market-by-market report from local offices:

  • Colorado Springs—The market has been steady the last few weeks.  Showings have remained steady during the week but slow on the weekends.  Sales have improved over the past weeks by about 20% as buyers are taking advantage of very low interest rates.  This has caused a decrease in listings, but we expect that to change in the upcoming weeks.
  • Devonshire—Showings and overall activity seem to be increasing in and around the office.  Brokers seem to be very busy with listing preparation and contract preparation. It is a little harder to gauge actual broker activity as our office construction has quite a few of our brokers working from home.
  • Denver Central—Seems to be steady in the downtown Denver area.  However, with FHA mortgage insurance going up on April 18th, it is affecting some of the lower end buyers and what they qualify for.  New listings are slowing down because parts of the foreclosure market are slowing down possibly because some of the banks are holding back some inventory.
  • Larimer County—If Pomp & Circumstance is ringing in your ears – it is certainly drowning out some of the activity here in Fort Collins.  Showings dropped quite a bit in the last two weeks as high schools & colleges captured most of the public’s attention.  While the office is taking more and more listings, the inventory at large is still substantially lower than in previous years creating pressure and limited availability in some price points. Interest rates have remained surprisingly stable in spite of the projected end of the Fed’s Quantitative Easing.  One recent development that Buyers should take advantage of is Coldwell Banker Home Loan’s single premium mortgage insurance option.  On a $210,000 loan using this program, buyers can save in upwards of $100 a month on their mortgage payments as compared to conventional PMI.  That kind of savings can really add up to more buying power!  Contact your local CB branch to get more details!
  • Longmont—The summer busy season has hit the Longmont area.  Buyers are attending graduations, weddings and end of school events.  Showings have taken a dip this last reporting period.  Investors are in the market to purchase.  They are looking at bank owned properties & HUD listings for the most part.  They are shying away from short sales due to the uncertainty of timing associated with those properties.  Appraisals are once again becoming an issue in getting deals done.  It is so true that real estate is local…very local…from one subdivision to another subdivision it can make a world of difference in values.
  • North Metro—Many sellers are preparing their homes to put them on the market now that it is becoming the height of the buying season.  The agents in the office have already listed 60 properties this month.  Due to the competition and number of homes on the market it is so important that sellers ensure their home is staged, the yard pristine & priced correctly for the market.  Open house activity has increased as well. This month the office has already placed 114 homes under contract.  This is a large increase from this time last year.  There have been several agents that put on Neighborhood Garage Sales.  You don’t want to miss these as many homes participate in this great event.  Visit us at the Denver Century Ride on June 11th & 12th at INVESCO Field.
  • Parker—The steady activity and the number of listings over the past few weeks have caused the prices in most neighborhoods to stabilize.  Although Parker is not at a point yet to declare a balanced market, it is visible.  The decline has slowed down and even come to a halt in many areas.  The continuous inclement weather has caused showings to decline slightly.
  • SE Metro—In the full swing of spring the buyers that are out looking for homes, see something they like and meets their needs, they had better get an offer in to the sellers.  Houses that are in good areas & in nice shape are selling very quickly, often with multiple offers. Now is the perfect time to get homes onto the market.  When a new property is listed in the office, there are typically more than five showings in the first week.  The consumers are really realizing that with interest rates at historic lows, now is the time to move forward.  No one can say what interest rates will do going forward.  In the upper end of the market, we are seeing houses going under contract faster than we have seen in some time.  Once again, sellers need to get their homes on the market as soon as possible.  The pent up demand is leading to a shortage of homes available for buyers so prices begin to escalate.  Now is the time!
  • SW Metro—May started out a little slower than April however the office is back on track.  Agents have been very busy with buyers and sellers.  There ar e still buyers actively seeking to buy homes. The office mortgage rep has been very busy these past two weeks, he is seeing a steady flow of buyers ready to buy.  Open houses have been very busy & have provided good leads.  Floor continues to be active. There are homes in the $300,000 to $450,000 range doing very well in the Southwest market.  Interest rates are great and the message is out there that a mortgage is sometimes cheaper than renting.  The Southwest market at this time has been good & it should be a good spring/summer.
  • Denver West—Most likely, fewer showings are due to high school activities, graduations, Mother’s Day and other events in May.  Denver West agents are still very busy listing and selling properties.  Buyer’s now believe the information they received about historically low interest rates, great inventory and low home prices.  Sellers that are priced right are experiencing an offer within a week and two or three times a week we see multiple offers on properties.
  • Loveland—It was great to have showing activity return to normal.  Sellers are realizing this is the time to put their homes on the market.  Potential sellers are asking for full service realtors.  They know that marketing their property is best done by a professional.  New home activity is picking up.  Builders are once again selling from model homes & offering quick build times.  There is activity in Loveland by businesses ready to service the companies that will be associated with the ACE project.  It is an exciting time in Loveland and Northern Colorado.
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Luxury home prices in the Denver Metro Area surged last month compared to March and year-ago levels, although sales declined during the same period, according to Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, Colorado’s leading provider of luxury real estate services. 

The median sale price of million-dollar homes climbed to $1,436,355 in April, up 19.7 percent from a year ago when the median stood at $1.2 million. Last month’s level was also up 7 percent from March, when the median was $1,342,500.

Sales declined in April to 26 units, down from 34 in March and 58 in April 2010. But there were more high-end sales last month as seven homes sold for more than $2 million compared to just three in March. Sellers also received more than 91 percent of their asking price on average, up from 90 percent in March and 89.8 percent last year.

The figures were derived from Multiple Listing Service data of all homes sold for more than $1 million last month in the Denver Metro Area.

“The overall housing market, including the high-end of the market, has been gradually improving,” said Chris Mygatt, president of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Colorado. “It’s encouraging to see median prices increasing, which is an indication that the market is gaining strength. But as the sales figures show, the recovery will continue to come in fits and starts.”

Some key findings from this month’s Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage luxury report:

  • The most expensive sale in the Denver Metro Area last month was a four-bedroom, six-bath 6,748-square-foot home in Boulder that sold for $3.2 million;
  • Boulder boasted the most million-dollar sales with eight, followed by Denver with four;
  • Sellers on average received 91.2 percent of their asking price, up from 89.8 percent a year ago and 90 percent the previous month;
  • It took an average of 224 days to sell a million-dollar home in the area, up from 141 days a year ago and 181 days the previous month.

The Denver Metro Area Luxury Home Report is produced by Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, a specialist in high-end real estate sales. Through its internationally renowned Coldwell Banker Previews® program, the company is recognized around the world for its expertise in the luxury housing market.

Source: REALTOR® Magazine online (April 27, 2011)

California boasted the highest number of cities where homes tended to spend the shortest amount of time on the market last month, based on March housing data from Realtor.com.

In Oakland, Calif., the average days on the market for listings was 50 in March–the least amount of days for median days on the market for the 146 markets reviewed.

Nationally, the median for homes for days on the market was 160 in March, which is an increase of 40 percent in a year.

Here is a list of the cities with the fewest median days on the market from March:

Oakland, Calif.
Median days on the market: 50
Median list price: $319,000

San Francisco
Median days on the market: 63
Median list price: $639,000

Denver
Median days on the market: 66
Median list price: $259,900

Iowa City, Iowa
Median days on the market: 66
Median list price: $187,500

Los Angeles-Long Beach, Calif.
Median days on the market: 70
Median list price: $345,000

Stockton-Lodi, Calif.
Median days on the market: 70
Median list price: $175,000

Bakersfield, Calif.
Median days on the market: 70
Median list price: $141,500

San Jose, Calif.
Median days on the market: 71
Median list price: $470,000

Anchorage, Alaska
Median days on the market: 71
Median list price: $279,975

Fresno, Calif.
Median days on the market: 71
Median list price: $170,000

Tulsa, Okla.
Median days on the market: 71
Median list price: $147,900

From Inside Real Estate News by John Rebchook

This 6,748-square-foot home in Boulder County sold for $3.2 million in April.

The Denver-area market for homes costing at least $1 million is relatively steady, shows a report released today.
 
There were a total of 57 sales – 51 single-family homes and six condos – in April, compared with 58 in April 2010, according to the report released by independent broker Gary Bauer. Single-family home sales were down by four from April 2010, when 55 traded hands, while condo sales doubled.
 
By the numbers In the first four months of the year, 156 homes sold – 143 single-family homes and 13 condos, compared with a total of 147 during the same period in 2010.
 
The total dollar volume for luxury homes in the first four months of the year was $235.9 million, compared with $232.9 million through April 2010.
 
The number of single-family home sales in April rose by 54.5 percent on a month-to-month basis, but that was for seasonal reasons, Bauer said. In March, 33 luxury homes sold. In April 2010, luxury single-family home sales rose by almost 90 percent from March 2010, when only 29 homes in that price range closed.
 
Luxury market proxy for entire market “What is happening in the luxury market is an example of what is happening in the overall market,” Bauer said. “We’re going to see a little up and little down for the next month or two. When we hit the prime season, we’ll see some upward movement.”
 
While the upper-end activity may not be “exciting,” Bauer said it still remains positive.
 
“It is beneficial to have $236 million in transactions,” Bauer said. “That is good for the economy.”
 
Edie Marks, a broker with the Kentwood Co., said Bauer’s data reflects what she is seeing.
 
“There’s nothing huge; nothing saying that there is a huge upward trend, but just kind of a steady market,” she said.
 
Low-ball offers abound What she is seeing, however, is a lot of low-ball offers.
 
“I’m seeing a lot of buyers out there who want to steal properties,” Marks said. “I’m seeing some really bad offers. They definitely want to steal the properties before they go up in value. But in most of the cases, the sellers are holding the line, which is appropriate.” In one case, she said she has received five offers from one potential buyer. The seller first listed the house at $1.35 million and has dropped the asking price to $1.150 million. The seller isn’t willing to accept a super-low offer, feeling he has come down enough in price.
 
“The seller is not going into the $900,000s,” or even $1 million, Marks said. The persistent prospective buyer, she said, “moves $15,000 and expects us to jump.”
 
She said just about every one of her 7-figure listings has received offers that have been rejected by the sellers.
 
“That’s what I am hearing from other brokers, too,” Marks said. “If people were accepting these low-ball offers, the (sales) numbers would be double.”
 

Bauer’s analysis of Metrolist data found that for single-family home sales:

  • 13 were in Denver

Bauer’s analysis of Metrolist data found that for single-family home sales:

  • 13 were in Denver
  • 11 in Arapahoe and Douglas counties
  • 9 in Boulder County
  • 6 in Jefferson County
  • 1 in Adams County
For condos, three were Denver, two in Boulder county and one in Arapahoe County.
 

This Cherry Hills home, listed at $2.85 million, sold for $2.55 million.

Single-family home prices ranged from $1 million to $3.2 million. The 51 home sales in April represented $76.6 million in sales volume, compared with $83.5 million in April 2010.

 
The median list price last month was $1.425 million and the median sold price was $1.3 million. In April 2010, the median list was $1.375 million, an the median sales price was $1.2 million, Bauer’s report shows.
 
There are currently 1,157 single-family homes priced at $1 million or more on the market, down 16.6 percent from the 1,212 in April 2010, but up 14.4 percent from the 1,011 on the market in March.
 
There are 106 condos in that price range on the market, down 23.4 percent from the 137 a year ago, and up 0.95 percent from the 105 in March.
 
Bauer’s report covers 11 counties: Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Clear Creek, Denver, Douglas, Elbert, Gilpin, Jefferson, and Park.

 

Foreclosures in Colorado have fallen to their lowest levels since the third quarter of 2008 and have fallen nearly 35 percent below 2009’s third-quarter total when filings peaked at more than 12,000, the state of Colorado Division of Housing said today.

A doorknob of a home for sale is secured with a realtor's lock in a Henderson, Colorado neighborhood in this file photo. (Getty Images North America | Chris Hondros)

New foreclosure filings fell to 8,115 in Colorado during 2011’s first quarter, falling 27 percent from 2010’s first-quarter total of 11,136.

According to the report released Thursday by the division, foreclosure sales at auction, the event that completes the foreclosure process, also dropped during the first quarter, falling 16 percent from 6,686 to 5,606, year-over-year, for the first quarter.

“Mortgage services and lenders continue to process foreclosures at an unusually slow rate, and although we expected foreclosure activity to drop in the first quarter, it fell more than expected,” said Ryan McMaken, Division of Housing spokesman. “That gives us hope for the future, but right now, foreclosure sales at auction aren’t going away.”

McMaken said that while several Colorado regions saw improvement during the first quarter, some parts of the state continued to see foreclosure growth.

All 12 of the state’s metropolitan counties reported drops in foreclosure filings during the first quarter of 2011.

But the story was different for some Western Slope and mountain counties where a rise in foreclosures was experienced.

From the first quarter of 2010 to the same period this year, filings in Garfield County rose 26 percent. They also rose 37 percent in Alamosa County and 29 percent in Delta County.

“The Western Slope and the mountains in Colorado are still growth areas for foreclosures,” McMaken said. “Mesa County finally saw some relief this past quarter with a drop in foreclosure filings, but places like Eagle, Garfield and Montrose (counties), we’re seeing both increasing numbers, and some of the higher foreclosure rates overall.”

Along the Front Range, Adams County filings fell 31 percent and Denver County fell 41 percent.

McMaken said most of the state’s 64 counties reported year-over-year declines in foreclosure filings.

Heading into the heart of this year’s spring season, a national perspective of the housing market is helpful in pointing out a few reasons for optimism in the months ahead.
 
Bruce Zipf, president and CEO of NRT, Coldwell Banker’s national parent company, said this week that despite trailing last year’s pace, overall business results have managed to exceed expectations, thanks in large part to a surprisingly resilient high-end market.
 
NRT’s agents across the country closed 32 homes over $10 million in March, up from 10 last year and just six in March 2009. The total number of homes sold over $2 million is up 12%. There was particular strength in the luxury segment of the market in the Northeast, Florida and in California.
 
Normally, the strength of the housing market is judged by looking at current sales volume against the same time last year to gain a sense of how things are improving. But data cannot be properly compared from this March and April due to the artificial stimulus effects of last year’s Home Buyer Tax Credit. In May, these effects should lessen and give the first true glimpse of the market’s strength.
 
Nonetheless, there will undoubtedly be continued improvement in the market as the heart of the spring buying season approaches, especially right here in Colorado. Many local offices report seeing growing momentum from buyers looking to take advantage of mortgage rates while they’re still low, as well as prices that remain affordable.
 
In a number of local markets, there continue to be more qualified buyers than listings. This situation is resulting in multiple offers for many attractive homes, often bidding up the sale price over the asking price. Buyers are coming in with a lot of cash or all cash to win out the competition. How things have changed since the depths of the recession!
 
This is not to say that every market around Colorado is experiencing the same strong buyer demand. Certainly a number of communities and even neighborhoods within those communities have more balanced markets, and some homes continue to sit while others sell briskly. But in general, well-presented, well-priced homes are selling much better today than they did a couple of years ago.
 
Another reason for optimism is that mortgage rates are likely to remain affordable for some time to come. A lot of market-watchers were concerned that the Fed could ratchet up interest rates soon in response to inflation fears and the end of the government’s bond-buying program. But Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke largely put those fears to rest in his first-ever press conference last week.
 
Although Bernanke signaled the end of its $600 billion bond-buying program, as expected, he made it very clear that he isn’t inclined to raise interest rates for a long time unless the inflation outlook worsens.  More than anyone, the Fed chairman is very aware that the economy continues to face headwinds in the form of high unemployment levels and a tepid housing market in many parts of the country. While things are certainly getting better, Bernanke isn’t likely to do anything to douse the nascent recovery.
 
So looking to May and the summer season before long, there are many reasons to be encouraged that the housing recovery will continue to gain traction – especially here in Colorado.
 
Below is a market-by-market report from local offices:
  • Boulder—Listings are down over the two week period & there are comments from agents that there is not enough selection in the upper end of the price range.  The number of contracts remained steady over the two week period while the number of showings increased by 15% over the past two weeks.  All three indicators add up to indicate continued cyclical growth moving into the busiest months of the year.
  • Colorado Springs—Showings were up 25% even with the holiday as a lot of showings were set for Saturday.  Listing inventory has remained the same because many buyers do not want to purchase a short sale (mortgage holder must approve the contract & that can take from 5 to 10 weeks).  Because of that sales were down 20% from past weeks. This coming week is jam-packed with economic reports that can have a big impact on the markets & home loan rates which still remain at an all time low.
  • Southeast Metro—Well, here at the end of April real estate activity is in full swing.  There has been consistent increases in showings on all office listings, even those in the higher price points.  Buyers are finding that if they find a property that meets their criteria, they had better get an offer in or they have a very good chance of losing that home to another buyer as listing inventory has dropped somewhat.  In the upper end of the market, there have been consumers making buying decisions.  Days on the market has dropped slightly.  Sellers are encouraged in all price points  to get their homes ready by doing the cosmetic fixups that will make their homes stand out from the others on the market – fresh mulch and flowers for great curb appeal as well as updates of paint colors, decluttering and staging the interior of their homes.  Interest rates are still very appealing so now is the time for both sellers and buyers.  Looking forward to a much improved real estate season this spring and summer.
  • Denver Central—The downtown, Denver Central, office has been pretty steady for the last couple of months.  However, these last two weeks under contracts have almost doubled.  A lot of buyers are getting off the fence right now.  Listings are beginning to drop off some. Agents have a good positive attitude about the market.
  • Larimer County—Activity is still brisk with office showing data increasing week over week.  There are numerous reports of multiple offers on well-priced homes & while the sales pace has slowed somewhat, it appears to be more Easter/Passover/Graduation related than anything on the economic front.  The business news for Northern Colorado remains on the positive side as local companies have shown positive quarterly earnings & slow but steady signs of growth.  Housing inventory levels remain at 10 year lows which will certainly help minimize the downward pressure on prices – but serious Sellers must be aggressive & take a hard look at the market to ensure that when their home goes on the market, it is priced to get the attention of the Buyers that are ready to buy right now.  Interest rates are relatively steady but creeping upward which can begin to limit a Buyer’s purchasing power.  The best bet is to contact a Coldwell Banker Home Loan mortgage advisor & get locked in on a great rate right now!
  • Longmont—Activity is happening in the Longmont market!  Showings are up to usual Spring levels.  The agents holding Open Houses are seeing good traffic.  Educated buyers realize this is the time to purchase.  Short sales and foreclosures are still a part of this market and they are impacting some neighborhoods in a large way.  Financing for the marginal buyer continues to be a challenge, however the well qualified purchaser has some great financing options.  First time buyers are finding great values here in Longmont.
  • Parker—The last couple of weeks have been very active again.  Listing inventory is decreasing and agents are writing more contracts every week.  Forecasts tell us that the interest rates are expected to go up by a full percent by the end of the year which makes now the time to buy and to invest!  Also, if the inventory continues to decrease, prices will be more stable and begin to go back up!
  • Devonshire—Market activity seems to be improving based on the number of showings and contracts written.
  • Southwest Metro—There is great activity in the office.  Buyers & sellers are ready to make their move.  Interest rates at this time are still very good and buyers are realizing that they need to get moving before rates begin to creep up.  The majority of sellers are pricing their homes to sell in this market.  Showings have been steady and open houses have been great.  Three clients walked in looking to buy & floor agents have been successful in converting these to actual deals.  Looking forward to a good Spring season.
  • Denver West—Properties that have been on the market for sale for a year are now receiving offers. Although the price has been adjusted down, it is clear that more buyers are in the market place.  Even though there is substantial inventory, oftentimes there is not “good” inventory.  Many homes in the 30+ age bracket desperately need new kitchens and bathrooms in order to help them to sell.  Typically, buyers want to move into a home that is “move in ready” or they want a real bargain if they need to do the updating.
  • Loveland—The Loveland news that ACE (the NASA spinoff) is still huge news for Northern Colorado, Loveland in particular.  There is more new home builder activity.  The price of these homes is mostly at the entry level for housing.  The builders are delivering a great product for the price!  Showing activity is inching up slowly but it is going in the right direction.  The general mood is that Loveland is poised to make a great recovery by the end of 2011.  If you are a buyer looking for a bargain, now is the time to be shopping!

By Amanda Gengler and Elizabeth Fenner May 2, 2011: 11:39 AM ET (MONEY Magazine) —

If you’re in the market to sell your home, you probably feel you can’t catch a break. Nearly five years into the housing bust, when many experts thought the real estate market would at least have stabilized, sales and prices are still dropping in most of the country.

In February existing-home sales tumbled 9.6% from the previous month, and the median price of a single-family home dropped to $157,000 from $163,900 the previous year, according to the National Association of Realtors. (Latest home prices)

You can’t count on things turning around soon, either. At the current sales pace, it would take 8.6 months to clear out the 3.5 million existing homes listed today.

With the boost from the recent homebuyer tax credit gone, anyone who decides or is forced to put a house up for sale enters a market where houses often linger a full six months — even a year — without any bites.

Put part of the blame on stiff competition: Foreclosures and short sales, which accounted for 39% of sales in February, sell for about 15% less than conventional homes.

“It’s dreadful out there for sellers,” says Patrick Newport, a U.S. economist at forecasting firm IHS Global Insight.

Fortunately, there is one glimmer of good news. Bargain hunters, too, know that home prices are down some 32% from their peak. In a recent CNNMoney survey, three-quarters said that it was a good time to buy a home. But translating that interest into an actual sale can require some extreme measures.

It’s not enough to show buyers your house is a deal: You have to convince them it’s a total steal. That means slashing your price, bringing in a pro to pretty it up, and creating a killer website for your home. Here’s how to do it right.

Slash Your Price, Bigtime. Sellers still loath to accept the extent of the toll the bust took on their homes’ value, says Tara-Nicholle Nelson, consumer educator for the housing website Trulia.com. Many also give in to the temptation to list the property above fair market value to see what happens. Big mistake. About a quarter of sellers in the past year initially listed too high and were forced to knock the price lower, according to Trulia.com. Even in cities that have held up well, such as Charlotte, 25% of sellers resort to at least one price cut, and often two.

6 cities slashing prices. Think you can always drop the price if your home doesn’t sell? Bigger mistake.

“The first 30 days on the market are the most important,” says Norwalk, Conn., realtor Elizabeth Kamar. That’s when your place attracts the most attention and gets the most showings. The result: You often end up with less than you would have if you priced it right to begin with, says Kamar. So get aggressive right out of the gate.

Undercut your competition. In normal times listings of similar properties in your area would give you a good sense of what your home might sell for. Today there’s a big gap between what sellers want and what buyers are willing to pay.

Instead, figure out what you can realistically expect to get by asking your realtor to show you what houses similar to yours have sold for in the past three to six months. If more than a couple of the comparable properties were foreclosures or short sales, look closely at the photos and descriptions of those former listings. Distressed homes should be included in your comps if they are in move-in condition, says Las Vegas realtor Paul Bell.

Once you have a handle on your likely sale price, list your home a bit beneath that, says Rockaway, N.J., agent Ellen Klein. You don’t have to undercut by much to attract attention, because that price will probably still be about 10% or 15% below what other homes are listed for. Even if you’re competing with lots of foreclosures and short sales, your price should generate enough interest to attract more than one bidder, pushing up the final price to where it should be.

When Dorchester, Mass., realtor Julie Simmons wanted to sell her own home in January, she listed it at $460,000, about $5,000 to $10,000 below what she thought she’d sell for.

“I knew I had to attract attention,” she says. Even in a harsh winter, she received four offers in less than two weeks — and sold for $465,000.

Take out the ax. No bites within 30 days? Make a big move.

“When a property sits, people start thinking it must be listed too high,” says Klein. To stimulate interest, make a giant cut — as much as 10% of the asking price, and even more in an area where prices are still falling. That should be enough to warrant a second look from buyers who passed the first time, and to bring in a new pool of potentials who are hunting in the lower price range.

Last year Montclair, N.J., empty nesters Peter and Lauren Meyer decided to downsize from their seven-bedroom home to an apartment in the same town. They put their home on the market for $1.1 million, more than their realtor suggested. Six months and four price cuts later they pulled it off the market at $889,000.

“At that point we wrestled with lowering the price further, but we were ready to move on,” says Peter. The couple relisted their home for $799,000 and it sold for $808,000.

Play hardball. It’s okay to reject low-ball offers if a buyer won’t budge. But if a buyer is willing to negotiate, push aside feelings of anger or insult and start counteroffering, says Mabel Guzman, president of the Chicago Association of Realtors.

Ideally you’ll be able to negotiate within $10,000 to $20,000 of an acceptable offer. Then, “using incentives as carrots and sticks can make it easier to reach an agreement,” says Guzman. For example, if your buyer refuses to dicker, you might offer to leave behind the appliances. Or maybe you’d rather take the reduced price but have the buyer agree that you take 60 days, not 30, to move out.

Hire a Stager. There are people who want to sell, and there are people who have to sell. Kathy and Rex Roberts are among the latter. Based in West Hartford, Conn., the couple, who have two children, have been living in different cities since early December, when Rex, an IT auditor, started a new job in Silver Spring, Md., after a layoff.

Before and after: Manhattan loft makeover

Listed that same month, their solidly built three-bedroom 1956 colonial has had no offers, despite two price cuts (it’s currently at $389,500). Between rent on Rex’s new place and their carrying costs on the house, they’re paying a budget-straining $4,000 a month. “We need to sell,” says Rex, “but we’re not willing to drop the price again.”

So in March they tried something new: professional home staging. Staging, increasingly popular with homeowners trying to sell mid-range houses, can extend from simply rearranging existing furniture to repainting, replacing fixtures, and bringing in new furnishings. The goal: to highlight the house’s best features while making it as easy as possible for buyers to imagine themselves living there. Veteran real estate brokers interviewed by MONEY say that proper staging can speed the sale and often increase the price too. The key is to get it done right.

Start with an open mind. Staging demands a psychological shift that many homeowners find challenging: thinking of your house not as your home but as a set. That means scrubbing away evidence that you actually live there. Your goal: the homey yet impersonal look of a Pottery Barn catalogue.

Find the right stager. The ASP (accredited staging professional) designation is a plus — it indicates the stager has gone through some basic training — but it isn’t essential. Get names from realtors or at realestatestagingassociation.com, then review the stager’s online portfolio of before-and-after photos. Next, call homeowner references and ask how fast their homes sold after staging and whether they think the work helped.

Establish a budget and ask the stager to work within it. Stagers typically charge $150 to $400 to walk through your home and give recommendations for each room. You can then execute the plan yourself or hire the stager to do it for an hourly fee, usually $100 or so, plus the cost of any new paint or furnishings.

If you make big changes, costs can add up — but “I can often make a huge difference using what homeowners already have,” says Mary D. Brooks, a stager and realtor from Breckenridge, Colo.

See whether your realtor will pay. If you’re on the hook for a full 6% commission, you have significant negotiating power. “I’m happy to pay for staging because I know it works,” says realtor Paul Aspelin of Victoria, Minn.

As for the Robertses, after getting advice from stager Kara Woods, owner of Stage to Move in Danbury, Conn., they painted their lavender dining room a soft gray and removed excess furniture, among other things; a professional stylist redid the living room (see above). “It’s incredible how much bigger and more modern it looks,” says Kathy.

Find the Right Hook. These days it’s going to take far more than a FOR SALE sign in the front yard and a spot on the multiple-listing service to get potential buyers in the door. That means getting the word out in a creative fashion — and finding a realtor who is willing to do the same.

“The more eyeballs that get on the listing, the better,” says Katie Curnutte of the real estate information website Zillow.com. To do that, you need a multipronged marketing plan of attack.

Create a great site. About 90% of buyers begin their search on the Internet, according to the National Association of Realtors. Make sure your home’s online presence has a dozen or two photos: Having 20 instead of five photos will almost double the number of hits you’ll get, according to Zillow.com. See the sidebar at right for more ways to keep potential buyers clicking on your site.

Vulture investors flipping their way to real estate profits

Throw money at them. Incentives can perk buyers’ interest just as much as price cuts, says Matt Brown, director of business development at ForSaleByOwner.com. In fact, many buyers will agree to a higher price if their upfront costs are lowered, since they often run short on cash.

If you can afford it, offer to cover the buyer’s closing costs or pay the first year’s property taxes or condo or homeowner association dues. However, those freebies may be practically standard, particularly in areas rife with distressed properties.

In that case, says realtor Guzman, you might be able to bring buyers to the door by tossing in an unusual bonus, such as a $1,000 gift card (throw in one for the buyer’s agent as well); a belonging they mentioned loving, such as the pool table or plasma TV; or a $5,000 credit to use in the home as they wish. (You can even pay upfront points so that they can get a lower mortgage rate, if you can swing it.)

Be aware, though, that you must disclose any such gifts or payments when the offer is agreed on, and some lenders will not approve them. If so, you might have to find another incentive that the bank doesn’t object to.

Showcase super condition. Yes, some buyers are hunting for foreclosures in rough shape that they can nab for a song. Yet just as many shoppers don’t want — or don’t know how — to put in that sweat equity. So hire an inspector to identify every problem with the home, even seemingly minor issues such as dripping faucets, and fix them.

“If an outlet doesn’t work, why get the buyer wondering what else is broken?” asks Beth Foley, an associate broker in Holland, Mich. Tell your realtor to give anyone who tours your home a copy of the inspection report and your list of fixes.

Spread the word online. Having your home listed on a major website like Realtor.com isn’t enough. Ask your realtor if you’ll get an “enhanced” listing on the site, where your home gets top promotional billing. Many realtors will create a website just for your home. You also want to get your listing on alternative sites like Craigslist or even Facebook.

In 2009, when Karen Mauro put her small, historic two-bedroom Orange County, Calif., home on the market she thought it would be a tough sale. Realtor Lisa Blanc listed the property at $467,500 and spread the word not only through the MLS listing but also with an update on her Facebook page. A Facebook friend of Blanc’s passed the info to someone she knew was looking for that kind of house. Within a week, Mauro had an offer for $460,000.

Stay away — far away. In better times you may not feel obliged to drop everything to accommodate prospective buyers’ schedules. Today, if buyers can’t get in on their time, they’ll skip it, says Summer Greene, who manages realtors in the Fort Lauderdale area. So be prepared to show a perfectly clean home at a moment’s notice. And disappear (along with your dog, if possible) for all showings and open houses so that prospects can imagine themselves in your house — an impossible task when your family is vegging on the couch.

When Betty McCoy began showing her Prairie Village, Kans., three-bedroom Cape Cod – style house, for example, she kept a list of must-do chores — including emptying wastebaskets, filling the dishwasher, making the bed and walked out every morning with the place spotless. On the weekend she holed up at a local mall.

“Every time I thought I could go home, a new person wanted to see the house,” recalls McCoy. But a few extra hours at the mall paid off in spades. In just a few days McCoy had an offer for her home — for the full listing price.

Peter and Lauren Meyer of Montclair, N.J., had to make dramatic price cuts to nab a buyer.

ReasonsToBuyGiven the challenges faced over the last few years in the real estate market, some may question whether buying a house now makes good sense. But take a look around at the housing market today and signs everywhere suggest that you “Buy Now.” The fact is, today’s market presents an excellent opportunity for buyers to find very competitive home prices and historically low interest rates.

The reasons for home buyers to purchase now keep adding up. Setting goals and adopting good habits, such as saving more, reducing debt and improving credit scores, will put buyers in a good position to get what they want when it comes time to purchase a home.

To help along the way, here is a list of 10 reasons now may be the best time to buy a home:

1. Right now, there good chances of a great deal. In some markets, prices have dropped significantly over the last four to five years; in some areas dropping 25-50%. Will prices fall further? No one knows for sure; but trying to catch the bottom is very difficult. No one will ever know if the market has hit the absolute bottom until after it happens and by then it’s too late!

2. Greater variety from which to choose. Single-family homes, condominiums, townhouses, new construction and existing homes are plentiful in many communities today. As a buyer, the greater the inventory the more likely it is that sellers will be motivated to sell.

3. New and improved research tools and technologies—like that of our Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage website, ColoradoHomes.com—make finding the right home in the best location an easy and enjoyable task

4. Modernized financing programs from the Federal Housing Administration that make buying more possible including options for first time home buyers as well as low and moderate income borrowers.

5. Mortgage interest rates remain at historic lows. Even though interest rates inch up in recent months, they still remain at near the lowest level in half a century. Of course, that won’t last forever.

6.Coloradans live in one of the most desirable areas in the country: Gorgeous weather. Trails. Hiking. Skiing. Museums. Culture. Shopping. World-class universities. And some of the finest restaurants in the country. Someone can do and see it all in Colorado, which is exactly why so many people choose to call the Centennial State home.

7. Owning a home is more than simply a place to live. According to MilitaryMoney.com’s article entitled “Home Ownership is Key to Building Wealth,” “The financial truth is that U.S. households build more wealth through home ownership than stock ownership.”

8. Many homeowners save on taxes. Generally homeowners can use the mortgage interest and real property taxes as deductions on their taxes. There are also tax breaks on any capital gains when selling. Of course, always do the math with a tax professional, but many people find that these tax breaks can make homeownership less expensive than renting.

9. HOME OWNERSHIP! The pride of ownership and greater flexibility to make a house a home.

10. Sooner or later, the market will rebound. The population of the United States is going to continue to grow which traditionally increases the demand for housing; unless the supply of housing increases at the same rate as the population, basic economic theory will tell you that home prices should go up.

Buyers, the message is simple: Things are changing and the opportunities available today will not last forever. It’s human nature to wait for an “all clear” signal after the type of downturn the market has experienced. Unfortunately, once the market rebounds, the same price and interest rate opportunities may not be around.

For those looking to the old-fashioned concept of buying a home to live in it for a number of years, there probably is not a better time than now to buy.

Each year, springtime ushers in warmer weather, flowers in bloom, the crack of a baseball bat (go Rockies!) and renewed energy for the housing market. After the winter hibernation, anxious homebuyers come out in force trying to find that special place to call home, and sellers finish up last minute touchups and put their homes on the market.

This year is no exception. The Colorado market seems to be gradually heating up along with the temperatures. Most of the local offices are reporting steady to improving sales activity and overall market conditions.

While many parts of the Colorado are seeing progress on the housing front, the picture isn’t uniform across the board. Some cities are experiencing stronger markets than others. In some communities, certain price ranges are hot while others are tepid. And even within a local market, while one property may get eight or 10 offers, another sits idle waiting for a single buyer.

Nonetheless, the recent uptick in activity in general is providing encouragement to Realtors as well as home sellers.

A variety of indicators—including investor and cash purchase levels and adjustable-rate loan use—are pointing toward a more normal market.  And while the housing market has certainly moved well back from its challenges two years ago, there is still a ways to go.

Distressed properties are still an issue in some counties and drag on prices.  Mortgage financing is still problematic for some borrowers as well.

What this tells is, the market appears to be moving in the right direction. Spring rejuvenation in many local markets will continue in the months ahead, especially if the economy and the local job market continues to improve. Only time will tell.

Below is a market-by-market report from local Coldwell Banker offices:

Boulder—Listings continue to grow as expected for the spring season.  The 24% growth from one two-week period to the next does feel larger than normal.  Sales are also continuing to grow in the market & have experienced an 18% growth over the past two weeks.  The number of showings has decreased by 5% on 600 showings in the previous week.  This would indicate slowing of leveling out in the growth of Buyers coming into the marketplace over the past two weeks.

Colorado Springs—Showings are back up to normal the past week with Friday and the weekend being busier than usual.  This has caused a slight decrease in listing inventory because more showings mean more properties going under contract.  Sales have been steady and most agents are staying busy.  They say just getting through the inspection and the appraisal is the hardest part of most of their transactions.

Denver Central—These last two weeks have been similar to the last two weeks in all ways.  It looks as if we are back to a steady market and hope to see an increase in sales activity soon.

Evergreen—Listing inventory remains stable with the number of sales and new listings in balance.  There have been nine new listings so far this month with five listings put under contract.  This included a listing priced at $995,000 on the Hwy 285 corridor.  Showing activity has declined slightly with 115 showings so far this month but continues across all price ranges and property types.  Selling activity has also stabilized with three buyers put under contract including two in the luxury market.

Larimer County—Spring has sprung!  Tress are bursting with blooms & the early spring flowers are making their way out of the thawed ground.  In spite of drought conditions on the front range, the same cannot be said for the housing market.  Vigorous is the term that comes to mind as well priced  homes are coming on the market & going under contract in a matter of days rather  than weeks.  Many have multiple offers commanding full price or more!  Sales volume remains steady through March with inventory levels at their lowest since 2001!  In spite of year-over-year decreases in sales, units & volume. This is partially due to the artificial run-up in the market from last year’s tax credit incentive.  With recent news of the selection of Loveland as the preferred site for the CAMT ACE campus, increased energy exploration in the north, the jobs picture for Northern Colorado continues to get brighter.  For those thinking about selling – now may be a good time to get on the market to take advantage of the low inventory & improving demand.  Perhaps even trade up to a dream home!

Longmont—The price of homes being shown & going under contract is creeping up in price.  Homes in the $200,000 to $300,000 range are the bulk of the activity. First time buyers are still in the market in a big way.  HUD has revamped the way that they are selling their inventory here in Colorado.  This has increased the number of HUD homes that Buyers are making offers on. Short sales continue to be a long and drawn out process.  Cash deals can take two to three months to close.  Cautious optimism about selling this season.

North Metro—Spring is definitely in the air and activity is picking up.  In the month of March, the agents at North Metro put 121 homes under contract and 60 new listings on the market.  It appears that Sellers are more realistic today about at what price their homes should be listed to get it sold, not just for sale.  Showing activity has picked up on the weekends but it is still somewhat slow during the week.  Open house activity has picked up as well.

Parker—The threat of a possible government shutdown did not have as much impact as some anticipated.  The activity in the Douglas County market is picking up every week, and the listing inventory continues to go down.  This trend has caused several areas to hold their value relatively stable.  Despite these very positive trends, it is still unusually difficult to get transactions to the closing table!  Skilled agents that are able to educate and guide buyers and sellers have become more & more important in today’s challenging real estate environment!

Devonshire—Many things are happening at the Devonshire Coldwell Banker office this week.  Our wonderfully located office, in the heart of Cherry Creek is getting a renovation & a new look. There is excitement about the look & increased functionally to help brokers and clients.  Showings on all ranges of property have had a healthy upswing of over 8% from the previous period indicating stronger consumer interest in all price ranges.  Additionally, new contracts and listings have increased which is also a strong indicator.  Looking forward to positive movements & bringing a higher standard of professionalism to our clients and the general public.

SW Metro—Showings have increased each week and there is great activity at open houses.  Several agents this past week picked up buyers and are currently working with them to find a home.  Also, floor has been successful for several agents who are also working with buyers.  There were two agents this past weekend who had multiple offers on three of their properties.  There is still a steady flow of buyers for well priced properties.  There is activity, not only on the $150,000 to $200,000 range but also the $350,000 to $450,000 range.  Agents are busy and the phones are ringing!

Denver West—The Denver West office placed 88 homes under contract during the month of March.  We are on target for an even more active market during April.  One of our multiple offer listings was on the market in the $300,000 price range and had three offers.  This generated a “bidding” event which ultimately sold the home for more than the list price.  Positive energy is felt throughout the office.  The office is very busy listing & selling homes that are “priced right,” with staging in place.

Conifer—No new listings went on the market so far in April for the Conifer office.  Inventory has declined slightly as three listings went under contract.  Showing activity declined sharply with only 22 showings for the month to date.  Selling activity remains steady since four buyers have been put under contract.

Loveland—The big news in Loveland is that Loveland is the front runner for the ACE campus.  This could mean thousands of mid to top range jobs coming to Loveland soon.  The Loveland community was very involved with showcasing the benefits that Loveland has to offer.  Local builders are showing their confidence in the local market.  They are digging foundations on spec homes and are offering some incredible deals.  Short sales and foreclosures continue to be prevalent in this market.  Buyers, both owner occupied and investors are seeing the value of these homes.

That’s it for now!  Make it a great week!

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