June 23, 2010 in City

Bright idea in a gloomy market

Home sellers waiting out a slow season look to freshen the deal
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Colin Mulvany photo

In order to sell her house, painting contractor Jennifer Crouch is willing to paint her home any color a buyer would like. Real estate agent Elizabeth Bendinelli says the house painting offer is unusual, but that the practice of home sellers tossing in unexpected extras is not.
(Full-size photo)

Like a lot of homeowners trying to sell, Jennifer Crouch has had a quiet six months – no offers for the blue four-bedroom home she first listed last winter.

So she and her real estate agent cooked up an idea: Crouch, a painting contractor, will paint the home the color of the buyer’s choosing.

“I thought, ‘What can I do to get this house sold?’” said Crouch, the 35-year-old owner of JMC Painting. “Maybe people don’t like the blue.”

The home on South Sherman Street is certainly a distinctive, bright blue. But it’s a rough time to sell a home of any color. Though real estate pros keep looking for scraps of positive news on the local statistics – sales are up over last year, inventory is down – the undeniable truth is that homes are sitting on the market for months. In January 2009, the average home for sale in Spokane was on the market for 65 days, according to Altos Research; as of June 20, it was 166 days.

A lot of people have gone through a lot of misery related to their homes in the past few years. Foreclosures in both Spokane and Kootenai counties were running double last year in May. But the economy is putting pressure on all sellers, not just those in dire straits. Elizabeth Bendinelli, Crouch’s real estate agent with Coldwell Banker South, says the offer to paint the home is unusual, but the practice of sellers tossing in unexpected extras is not.

“You see all kinds of things, especially right now,” said Bendinelli. “I’ve seen things like Jet Skis thrown in.”

Crouch bought the house three years ago and restored it top to bottom with a friend, Larry Glenn. They hung new drywall, put in a new kitchen, painted it inside and out, did new landscaping – the works. She bought the place shortly after she had a stroke, and the work took on an extra dimension.

“It was a project for me,” she said. “It was my physical therapy.”

Now she wants to move to a smaller place she just bought – and yet another remodeling project. But the wait drags on. The house is listed at $159,000, down 10 grand from the initial price. If she could sell it at that, she’d do a little better than breaking even.

In the meantime, work is slow in the painting biz, and she’s carrying two mortgages.“It’s hard, day by day,” she said. “It’s really … thin.”

One of the reasons homes are on the market longer, real estate agents say, is that sellers are slow to lower the prices of their homes. Average and mean home prices are down significantly. Buyers want a deal, and they know they can get one.

Which means that if you’re someone like Robert Bosaaen, a 28-year-old who’s been trying for a year to sell his home, you have a difficult choice: drop the price and give up hope of making any money, or stay where you are in the hopes that things will get better.

Bosaaen wants about $125,000 for his three-bedroom house on West Spofford Avenue. He says his agent has advised him to drop the price, but he’s hoping he can make enough money to pay for a move to the East Coast for him and his girlfriend. He’s working, isn’t behind on the payments, and doesn’t need to sell urgently – but that doesn’t mean the wait isn’t frustrating.

“People who are looking to buy right now basically want it for free,” he said. “It’s just not really a market for the average person who just wants to move.”

Things may be turning a corner, at least according to real estate folks – who tend to say the glass is half full even when it’s almost empty. Larry Lapidus, an agent who prepares online videos about the state of the market, said that a few statistical indicators show “the makings of a market that’s in the process of turning around.” One of those indicators is that sellers’ chances of a fast sale are improving – if you listed a home in May of this year, you had a 16 percent chance of selling it within a month. That’s up from 12 percent last May – though still well below the 25 percent of 2007.

So it might be a bit better, but it’s still a long ways to good. Crouch hopes her offer – pick your color, buyer – will help goose the interest in her home.

But she isn’t holding her breath. She knows what it’s like out there, having recently sold another home in Greenacres.

That one took a year.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com.


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