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Sellers get real

Now willing to budge on price

By Carolyn Ireland – Globe and Mail

Steve Newberry never dreamed it would come to this: When house hunters want to tour his three-bedroom home in Toronto’s Beaches area, the account executive packs his Labrador retriever, the coffee maker and the kitchen canisters into his car and heads out for a long drive.

Mr. Newberry is adhering closely to the modern-day real estate industry maxims: The dog must be absent, and the kitchen must be free of all signs of human occupation for the showings. “There I am, driving around with the kitchen utensils,” he says.

Mr. Newberry vows to keep up his unorthodox routine for as long as it takes to sell the house on Victoria Park Avenue near Queen Street East. He gained a new appreciation for the effort required to attract buyers after the home belonging to him and his partner, Paul DeRose, sat on the market last fall for two months without a single showing and no offers.

While his decision to list in mid-October — soon after the downfall of Lehman Brothers and stock market crash — was exceptionally bad timing, Mr. Newberry says that, with hindsight, there were a lot of things he could have done differently.

Now, in the rebounding spring market, Mr. Newberry and Mr. DeRose have put the 12-year-old house back on the market after cutting the asking price, hiring a new agent, rearranging the furniture and clearing out car loads of belongings deemed undesirable by a home stager.

He’s one of many sellers who are bowing to a new reality, real estate agents say, as homeowners concede that buyers have the upper hand.

The house was put back on the market last week with an asking price of $824,000, down from $989,900 last fall.

That’s still near the upper end of the range suggested by their newly hired agents, who favoured a price closer to $799,000.

“He wanted to reach a little bit more and we’re comfortable with that,” says Ms. DeClute, who adds that the house is newer than most in the area. “People are happy to have straight walls and closet space.”

Mr. Newberry said he and Mr. DeRose decided to hire the DeClutes because they seem to specialize more particularly in the Beaches neighbourhood than their previous agent did.

Ms. DeClute says the team is a three-generation family business and therefore more familiar with the housing stock.

“We’ll take Gerry, our father, to see a house and he’ll say ‘Oh, I’ve sold that three times before.’”

They were also more realistic about the price, Mr. Newberry believes, than some agents who just seemed to be trying to flatter him in order to get the listing.

Ms. DeClute says homeowners fought against lowering their asking price in the fall, but now many accept that prices have come down about 10 per cent in the City of Toronto.

“Certainly in the last few months people are a lot more realistic,” she says.

She also points out to sellers that any new house they will be shopping for will likely have dropped by the same amount.

Ms. DeClute says her sales team has put a much greater emphasis on home staging since the market headed into a slump last year.

“We’ve purchased a pick-up truck and we offer it to our clients to take things to storage.”

Ms. DeClute says the team also has a storage locker full of furniture and accessories that they lend to clients who need help to stage their home.

Like Mr. Newberry, many clients rebel against the idea, she says, but usually they come around when they realize that other houses in the same price range have gone through the treatment.

In Prince Edward County, near Belleville, Ont., an overheated market has cooled down considerably in the past year, says agent Laurie Gruer of Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd.

As a result, sellers are more willing to bring their asking price down from those tallied at the peak, he says.

While the market has picked up as usual with the arrival of spring, Mr. Gruer and his partner, Sam Simone, are advising sellers to be extremely conservative in setting a price.

“Unless they’ll do it at our price, we won’t take the listing,” Mr. Gruer says. “I’d like to have 15 or 20 listings that are going to sell.”

Mr. Gruer says prices had gotten very rich in the county, which is surrounded by the waters of Lake Ontario. Many buyers were homeowners in Toronto who purchased vacation homes in and around Prince Edward County’s vineyards, beaches and historic towns.

Last year, for example, the agents had one listing for $1.395-million. When it didn’t sell, Mr. Gruer recommended that the owners cut the price to $1.2-million. In another case, Mr. Gruer represented buyers who paid $730,000 for a house that started out on the market with an asking price of $985,000 2-1/2 years ago.

“People have seen things sitting on the market for two years and, if they really want to sell, they don’t want to play that game.”

Mr. Gruer says sales in a few parts of the county have also likely been weighed down by planned wind farms in some areas.

In Toronto, Mr. Newberry and Mr. DeRose hope to buy a house with a larger lot and a swimming pool in the west end. But they won’t start looking seriously until they have a “sold” sign in front of One Victoria Park Ave.

Mr. Newberry says he feels more confident. The house has had more showings so far than it did all of the previous time it was on the market.

“It’s really going to happen this time,” he says. “Last time it didn’t feel real.”

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Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information  -  416-388-1960

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