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VALLEY AND VENTURA COUNTY

Agents, Buyers Trying to Get More Homes on the Market

Real estate: Strategies include cold calls and personal letters asking owners to consider selling.

October 27, 1998|ABIGAIL GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The real estate agents are cold-calling homeowners in hot neighborhoods again. Eager buyers are taking matters into their own hands and distributing fliers, asking residents to consider selling.

Rising home prices may not have reached 1980s heights, but the aggressive methods of bringing more homes to market evoke a sense of deja vu to homeowners in the San Fernando Valley and Westside.

"There's a lot of solicitation because there's a lot of demand for good product," said real estate broker Fred Sands. "We even have a shortage of mega-million-dollar homes for the celebs."

So at Sands' offices and elsewhere, agents are staying late for "cold-calling nights," to phone well-located homeowners whose properties are not listed, to try to persuade them that now is the time to sell.

Some agents knock on doors when they're in the area. Solicitations appear in mailboxes, from agents and buyers themselves, asking homeowners to cut out the middleman--and agents' fees--and deal direct.

Real estate economists measure inventory by the number of months it would take to sell all the homes on the market at the current rate of sales.

Normally, that figure is between eight and 10 months, said G.U. Krueger, an economist with the California Assn. of Realtors. In 1990, inventory was more than 25 months.

But as of September, the supply of homes in Los Angeles County was at 5.4 months, Krueger said.

The Valley market is even tighter, at 4.2 months; that's even hotter than another hot market, the Westside, which has an inventory of 5.8 months, Krueger said.

"This is the lowest inventory I've seen and I've been here a long time," said Winnie Davis, an agent with Coldwell Banker-Jon Douglas Co., who has worked in the Northridge and Porter Ranch areas since 1973.

So Davis says she has been sending out what she calls "target letters" in record numbers.

When she can't find buyers what they want among the homes on the market, she looks for what they need among houses not for sale and fires off letters to the owners.

"Instead of losing a client, you have to find other avenues to come up with possible solutions," Davis said. "This is a solution I've found that does work."

Prices, also, have risen--although not to the record highs of the late 1980s. The median price of Los Angeles County homes rose to $183,000 in September, a 5.2% increase from the same period last year, according to the research firm DataQuick.

The Southland Regional Assn. of Realtors said last week that the Valley had a September median resale price of $189,900, a 12.4% increase from September 1997.

But Sands and others caution sellers not to get greedy. People looking for homes are eager, but not so desperate that they are willing to pay inflated prices.

"Buyers out there are not euphoric, so they're not going to pay just anything," Sands said.

Nonetheless, some homeowners receive an unsolicited offer or aggressive call and see dollar signs before their eyes.

Ash Singh thought he had a perfect solution to the problem of finding a bigger house for his family in the Oak Park area. He made "Dear Homeowner" fliers and put them in the mail slots of homes he liked.

"We are a young professional couple with kids, have spent much time exploring various neighborhoods and have decided Oak Park is the perfect place to raise our family," he wrote. "We have Super Credit, Big down payment and more than qualifying income to get a loan. We also have the flexibility regarding the close of escrow date."

The letter goes on to entice the homeowner with what he or she might save on a direct sale: "By dealing directly with a buyer like me, on a $300,000 price the commissions savings [alone] can be $18,000, which will go in to your pocket."

Singh said he found plenty of people who had not thought about selling but were willing to jump at an offer like his.

The problem, he said, was that his tactic must have made him seem desperate, inflating the hopes of the sellers.

"We realized that there was no savings, people call you back and quote you much higher than a broker would," Singh said.

Singh eventually gave up his search for an inhabited home and bid on a home in a new development.

Krueger of the California Assn. of Realtors predicts a rise in inventory as prices move up and would-be sellers respond.

But that is not likely to mean an end to the phone calls and fliers just yet.

"It might be worthwhile to do some cold-calling right now," Krueger said. "People might be contemplating putting their house on the market. If you call them, it might just tip them over."

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