As the saying goes, all real estate is local. Prices could be going through the roof in one region of the country and sinking through the floorboards in another. For savvy buyers and sellers, movement in either direction creates profit-making opportunities.
So, to get a better sense of how individual real estate markets are performing, MyBankTracker recently interviewed several real estate agents in their home markets to determine who has the upperhand: buyers or sellers. Surprisingly, wherever we looked, we found markets energetic, if not robust, and agents relatively optimistic about future sales prospects.
Smithtown, New York
Smithtown, a town of about 117,000 people located an hour’s drive east of New York City, is a family-values stronghold on the North Shore of Long Island. Barbara Lenard, a real estate agent with Prudential Elliman, said it’s a great time for move-up buyers, especially those seeking harbor-facing homes overlooking Long Island Sound.
“Homes that used to go for $1 million along the harbor, you can now get for around $800,000,” she said.
She attributed the declining sales prices for million-dollar-plus homes to an aging population and empty nesters in high-maintenance homes eager to downsize.
“Even if a prospective buyer currently lives in a home purchased after the 2007 real estate crash, she sees move-up opportunities,” she said. “Maybe you’re still underwater, but prices have come down enough in the bay and harbor areas, that you have a clear opportunity to move up.”
To get a sense of what it costs for you to “move up,” check out mortgage rates using MyBankTracker’s rate table below.
Dustin DeFrates, owner of Sterling Fine Properties in Scottsdale, Ariz., would probably be the town’s mayor or Chamber of Commerce president if he weren’t peddling real estate and the wonders of the greater Phoenix area full time. He moved to Phoenix from Chicago in 2003 — a move that he calls the best he’s ever made.
Despite recent news reports that the real market is slowing, DeFrates isn’t buying the chatter.
“Maybe investors and speculators aren’t dominating the market the way they once were after the real estate crash, but the market, from a historical perspective, is still strong,” he said. “Any slowdown has been exaggerated by the media.”
Driving sales in the Valley of the Sun are a number of factors, DeFrates said.
“With more than 250 golf courses, this is the golfing capital of the world,” he boasted. “Any homes located along a golf course or the historic old town are selling fast. We have fabulous restaurants with world-class executive chefs and we have all the major sports teams here.
“In January 2015, we’re hosting the Barrett-Jackson auto auction followed up by the Super Bowl,” he added.
DeFrates was just warming up, championing the region.
“Because of our low tax environment, major companies, representing big data and accounting firms, are relocating here every month,” he continued. “We have 24 multi-family projects underway downtown.”
Snowbirds, especially from energy-rich Calgary, Canada, are also flocking to the region, DeFrates noted.
“Medical tourism is big business here,” he said. “If you live in Canada and need a medical procedure done, instead of waiting, you come here, then fall in love with the area.”
DeFrates didn’t mention the region’s long stretches of triple-digit temperatures in summer, but was hardly fazed when the topic came up. “If you want to dodge the heat, Prescott is an hour-and-a-half drive north,” he answered.
And the drought parching the Southwest?
“We live on a lake fed by different rivers and streams,” he said. “Talk of us running out of water is just more media hype.”
DeFrates wasn’t quite finished. “Bottom line,” he said. “Financing is cheap, so this is a great time for move-up buyers.”
All you need to know about Cupertino, Calif., is that it’s home to the headquarters of Apple, the world’s largest company (by market capitalization), which is building a 2.8 million-square-foot building that looks more like a spaceship than a corporate campus.
“It’s a good time to be a seller,” said Gino Blefari, owner of a Berkshire Hathaway Home Services franchise in town. “That’s because there’s almost no inventory, and interest rates are still extremely low, so buyers can finance more house.”
Blefari said he visits his elderly parents who live in nearby Sunnyvale each day. “They bought our family home in the 1960s for $18,750, brand new under the GI bill,” he said, “and they could sell it in a heartbeat today for $1.4 million.”
To illustrate the sweet spot sellers are enjoying, he said he was conversing that morning with another agent whose client had offered the asking price of $1.7 million for a 60-year-old home with no upgrades. Yet, a bidding war ensued, forcing the client to increase his offer to $2.3 million, then $2.5 million, before finally bowing out when the sellers demanded $2.6 million.
“The market has just gotten too crazy,” Blefari said. “The super-duper high end is not as hot, but anything under $3 million is on fire.”
Fortunately, in Bloomington, Ind., the median home price is $163,000, a relative bargain given that the city is home to Indiana University and the gateway to the state’s scenic southern portion.
“We have a lot to offer,” said Kristy Receveur, a new agent with Carpenter Realtors. “We have one of the best music and ballet programs in the world. We also have one of the nation’s best business schools.
“Consequently, we have more buyers than sellers,” she added. “Compound that with the fact that about half the housing units are rentals, so inventory is severely limited.”
Receveur’s challenge is to try to get homeowners to realize their current run-up in equity, whetting their appetites to sell.
“People are pretty set in their ways,” Receveur said. “This is the Midwest, where we don’t view our homes as piggybanks.”
At the doorstep of Glacier National Park, Whitefish, Mont., is a nature lover’s playground, home to a little more than 6,000 people who get to enjoy year-round cobalt-blue lakes and awe-inspiring, snow-capped peaks.
“After the real estate crash, we’re seeing more and more buyers trickle in,” said Gregg Jones, a real estate agent who grew up in Whitefish and returned to the town after graduating from college to raise a family. “New money is coming in from Texas and California,” he added. “A lot of people come to visit friends, and once here, they want to locate here for the hunting, skiing and fishing.”
Current homeowners are noting the renewed interest, but are mostly sitting tight. Homes along Whitefish Lake go from $900,000 to $3 million.
“I get the sense they’re holding out for when things really pick up,” Jones said. “I think we’re up 38 percent from the bottom.”
From New York to California, if key economic drivers are in place, real estate values are still rebounding from the 2007 crash. From our anecdotal sample of real estate agents nationwide, though, the glass is very much half full in a bottoms-up market.