Ariana Huffington says bloggers need only have “something to say, and the ability to say it in an interesting way.” From this statement, I conclude timeliness is not a crucial factor in the blogging world. On that note, I am now posting a story that came out in our Jan. 2 issue. Sorry for the delay. I was on vacation for a week between when this piece was written and when it came out, and naturally forgot basic responsibilities.
Kiss Your Bust Goodbye D.C. real-estate agents resolve to have hope in 2009.
Forget weight loss. Real-estate agents are looking to gain in 2009: more properties offered for more money. But there’s a hitch to this new audacity to hope: Home values continue to drop. Construction has slowed to the pace of an old tractor. And the term “global recession” now just rolls off the tongue. So what’s a good agent to do? Fret, of course, and consider one of these three resolutions:
Sometimes, you’ve got to ‘Go Green’ to get green In approximately three weeks, we’ll have a guy in the White House who not only embraces the reality of global warming but picks administration officials who “value science.” Amazing changes are henceforth afoot! Along with them, we’ll see “green building” and “sustainable design” continue their reign as the buzz words of our dayŠand even more people might have a vague inclination to care.
Yet D.C. still has a limited supply of LEED-certified apartments and condominiums. And solar units are cost-prohibitive for most. The easiest way to go green might be brushing a new coat of low-V.O.C. leaf-colored paint on the wall or sending off a check for a tree planted in an Amazon rain forest.
For true change-agents/potential real-estate clients, of course, that won’t cut it. That’s where some training can be of use for their agents, says Courtney Poulos of the Reishman Group of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Dupont. Roughly a year and a half ago, Poulos took an online course with EcoBroker International covering how to market green homes, how to help clients find the right green products, and how to recognize property owners who are “greenwashing,” otherwise known as pawning off their homes as more energy-efficient or sustainable than they really are. After completing the class (roughly three weeks start to finish), Poulos became a certified EcoBroker, making her one of only two in D.C. who could claim that at the time; now, there are eight. Poulos says the extra education has given her “an edge.” “I’ve definitely gotten a lot of clients [through Ecobroker.com] that are interested in looking only for green properties.” She can also wax on with confidence about the merits of using a tankless water heater, getting an energy audit in the winter, and gardening with native flowers.
Besides EcoBroker International, a variety of other green certifications exist (some more legit than others). “Now NAR [National Association of Realtors] has a green designation, which I’m sure a lot of people will be jumping on,” says Poulos. “I certainly will be.” Earlier this fall, Long & Foster agent Lance Horsley completed training through Greenrealestateeducation.com. As he told me in November, “[People] are coming to me a lot saying, ‘Where are your green buildings-can we start with them?’ Unfortunately, my answer is ‘We’ve got one or two to select from. Let’s go look at them,’ and then that’s it.”
Get Over Your Foreclosure Fears In many areas, especially in Northern Virginia, it’s easier to find a foreclosure property than a grocery store. But despite the burgeoning supply, U.S. homebuyers are now less willing to check out foreclosure properties than they were seven months ago (47 percent, down from 54 percent), according to a recent report commissioned by Trulia.com and RealtyTrac. Why? Some people don’t want to endure the time-consuming negotiations with a bank. Other people simply don’t like the idea of living in a foreclosure property: They feel the ghosts of owners past-heartbroken people scrounging around to make mortgage payments, packing up their kids and moving into rental properties or other people’s living rooms. Then there are the more tactile problems: clogged and busted gutters, leaky pipes, mold spores, soggy drywall, etc. And some properties are simply missing fundamentals like the washing machines and fridges that angry former owners ripped out of the walls.
A lot of agents are inclined to steer their clients away from disaster-prone foreclosure sales. But there’s still a lot of business to be done there, says Carlos Garcia of the Eng Garcia Real Estate Group (a Keller Williams affiliate) in Adams Morgan. Garcia wants to be able to counsel his clients “in evaluating the pluses and the minuses” of less-than-perfect properties. Real-estate pros need to understand what they’re getting into, as well. Last weekend, he brought in a title attorney to speak to some of his employees. “Sometimes, a bank will actually say that you need to get a pre-approval from one of their lenders. Maybe you do, or maybe you don’t want to do that,” he says. In ’09, he’d like to host another training session with an asset manager. “Existing opportunities disappear, and new opportunities appear. We need to shift and get with it,” he says. Learn to Do It All (Or At Least Do More Things Better) A few months ago, I called up home appraiser Michael T. Giampa to talk about flooding in foreclosure properties. It turned out he’s not only an appraiser, he’s an appraiser/real-estate broker/mold-remediation specialist extraordinaire. Giampa owns Accurate Appraisal Service Inc. and Mason Neck Realty, Inc. in Mason Neck, Va. In his heyday-2004-he worked with six real-estate agents and 22 appraisers. These days, the business is basically him and an assistant. Homes sales were predictably slow for 2008: “We had a little bitty bit of an uptick selling foreclosures, up until I had one settle last month. My assistant, she had, at one point, seven properties. The occasional buyer is just looking for good properties at this point,” says Giampa. But with the slump in full swing, he was receiving fewer calls to check out houses in what had been his territory and more and more calls to look at foreclosures across the entire Mid-Atlantic region. On one day, he visited four states and the District on his way to two different jobs, starting with a drive to Rockingham County in western Virginia. He then drove through West Virginia on his way to Allegheny County, Md., then dipped into Pennsylvania for a brief moment, before heading through D.C. on his way back to Northern Virginia.
With so much time to think, Giampa figured out he could make an extra buck with some training in minor mold remediation. He’s onto something here: When your old skills are growing stale, it’s time to pick up a few new ones that are in demand.
Plenty of other agents are taking that approach, says Walter Molony, spokesperson for the National Association of Realtors. This May, the association released its annual survey, culled from the responses of 10,000 members in early 2008. The number of members holding at least one professional designation-labels for agents who can specialize in certain fields, like international, first-time, and commercial buying and selling-increased by nearly 21,000 to a total of more than 428,000, or more than a third of the association’s total membership. Since taking an online class in mold remediation this summer, Giampa estimates he’s picked up between $7,000 to $10,000 on seven completed jobs. “Anything to keep the lights on,” he says.
Top image by Darrow Montgomery; Car image by Geognerd, Flickr Creative Commons