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Smart Moves

Autumn Buyers Are Fewer but More Serious

October 11, 1998|ELLEN JAMES MARTIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"The season of rationality."

That's what Esther Goff of Prudential California Realty calls autumn.

Gone are many of the window shoppers of spring and early summer. They had high hopes of buying but did not, perhaps stymied by rising prices throughout Southern California.

By autumn, when students are back at school and working people are once again in high gear at the office, the home-buying crowd tends to thin out somewhat.

But those left are mainly committed, no-nonsense buyers, determined to purchase homes.

"There are fewer buyers in the fall, but they're serious buyers," said Goff, a broker-associate for the Mission Viejo office of Prudential California Realty.

The news for homeowners seeking to sell their homes this fall is both good and bad, said Mary Ellen Graham, who sells property through the Woodland Hills office of Coldwell Banker-Jon Douglas Co.

By fall, much of the demand for-housing has slackened, as buyers completed their moves in the summer to allow their children to attend new schools when the academic year began, Graham said.

On the other hand, fall is a prime period for buyers making long-term career moves. Once they've found a house that's appealing and fairly priced, such buyers often act quickly, she said.

"Corporate relocation buyers are fabulous. They're organized, decisive and have a deadline to move," Graham said.

In addition to relocation buyers, there are other focused purchasers prowling the region's market in autumn. Although the dreamers are gone, some committed trade-up buyers are still seeking better quarters.

Like a relocation buyer, the focused move-up buyer is often decisive and deadline-oriented, seeking to close on a new place before the Thanksgiving turkey is set out on the table, said Jim Cox, the broker-owner of Century 21 Ability Realty in Camarillo.

Are you planning to market your home this fall?

If so, it's critically important that you be ready to act in accord with the schedule of the buyer, who is likely to want to move in before the winter holidays, Cox said.

Here are three pointers for those marketing a Southland property in the autumn:

* Pay attention to the competition before pricing your home.

Even during a strong year for home sales, like this one, your property may not fetch quite as high a price in the fall as it would have in the spring or early summer. Why? "Because it's harder to sell in the fall," said Cox, the realty office owner from Camarillo.

Because mortgage rates are still low and the economy is still relatively buoyant, many desirable Southland neighborhoods remain strong sellers' markets in the current period.

But compared to the spring or early summer period, the buyer "is now more in the driver's seat," said Goff, of Mission Viejo, who has sold homes since 1979.

The reason has to do with inventory. In most years, the supply of homes for sale increases around September, as the number of prospective buyers dwindles, Goff said.

Before you price your home for sale in the fall, it's important to ask your agent for statistics on the number of rival properties that are also for sale.

If the supply is increasing, you may have to lower your price expectations slightly. Likewise, if the supply is decreasing, you may be able to price more aggressively.

"You have to compete just the way Kmart and Wal-Mart compete when they're in the same market," Goff said.

* Consider a mark-down if yours is a home left over from summer.

Unfortunately, some homeowners who put their home on the market late this summer did so with big eyes, Goff said. Noticing that neighbors sold easily for a pretty penny, they may have listed their homes at prices much higher than did the neighbors.

"For a lot of people, I think it's just gluttony," Goff said.

But in the home-selling market, those who list their homes in the stratosphere are usually punished, even when buyers abound.

If you committed this folly earlier this year, your property may still be languishing on the market unsold. During the fall, it's definitely time to listen to your real estate agent when she says you need a markdown.

The sad truth is that if you over-priced in the spring or summer, your property may deliver a lower sum in the fall than it could have if you'd priced it fairly when it first went on the market, Goff said.

* Don't try to haggle too much with a relocation buyer in the autumn.

As a negotiating strategy, many purchasers are counseled by their agents to say that if a first offer on Property A is rejected, they'll simply move down their list to pick Property B or C.

In some cases, however, the second and third houses turn out to be mythical. In truth, the buyers want Property A and will bargain to get it.

But relocation buyers are more businesslike than the average. Because they tend to move often, they get less emotionally committed to any one house. Therefore, if you turn down a reasonable offer from a transferee, you may see him walking away without another round of bargaining, warned Cox, of Camarillo.

"Relocation buyers don't have time to haggle. They really will have a second and third house on their list that they're willing to buy," he said.

Ellen James Martin is a syndicated columnist. Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate.

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