Going Up

Story: David Moore

The good news – experts see a rise in the real estate market. The even better news – we complied a list of tips to help you buy and sell real estate in today’s new real estate game, particularly suited for Marion County.

Carla Lord likes what she sees on the current real estate scene in Marion County.

“It’s incredibly busy,” said the local realtor and owner of Homes to Ranches Realty, Inc. “All realtors are happy. Our business was actually up 30 percent last year from the year before. It’s very exciting for us.”

All realtors seem to be celebrating these days, hoping the increase in real estate sales is a sign of an economic turnaround.

Last month a report from the Ocala/Marion County Association of Realtors showed 323 single-family homes were sold in Marion in January, up 24 percent from January 2012. And the number of pending sales jumped to 589 in January, an increase of nearly 53 percent from the previous January.

And it’s not just here. Nationwide, the index for pending home sales rose 4.5 percent in January to 105.9, the highest in three years, according to a report in late February by the National Association of Realtors.

Likewise, the US Commerce Department reported new home sales nationwide jumped 16 percent from December to January, the highest level since July 2008. National home prices in 2012 also rose by the most in six years. And according to research published in February by Florida Realtors, home prices in Florida are improving, with sellers receiving more than 92 percent of their original asking price.

An increase in home price actually contributes to a housing recovery, experts say, because it encourages people to buy before prices rise further. This also helps to build homeowners’ wealth, which can spur spending and economic growth.

“Yes, over all, real estate is up in Marion County,” agrees Shadd Daugherty, owner/agent of Showcase Properties of Central Florida, Inc. “We are seeing more and more sales and on some levels, even bidding wars. I miss those days.”

Daugherty said the pulse of the consumers’ confidence and the lenders’ willingness to lend closely determines the increase in sales. “If the lenders would be a little more willing to lend, we would all be a little more confident,” he said.

The more stringent lending process is something that has certainly changed, notes Lord, who has been in the real estate business for 20 years and is currently MLS president for the Ocala/Marion County Association of Realtors. “Some won’t even allow their properties to be shown these days unless the buyer is pre-qualified. It wasn’t like that before.”

But that’s where hiring an experienced realtor comes in, she notes. When hiring a realtor, look for someone with experience who is continuing to educate themselves. “Everything is constantly changing in this field and we try to stay ahead of the curve,” she said.

Too often, people get into the real estate business thinking they’ll show a few houses, write them up and are done, Lord said. That’s not how it works.

“That process, the writing up, is the easiest part. It’s getting through to the end, to the very day that the fat lady sings. That’s the best part. The hardest part is the in-between.”

The in-between is showing the house, working one on one with the client, listing it on your website – something all realtors should have, Lord says – and doing all the things it takes to sell the house and walk a client through the process.

“I don’t look at what I’m making. I look at what I’m doing for my client,” Lord said. “That’s the kind of realtor you have to have. If they’re listing your property to sell it, you can’t just stick a sign in the yard and hope that someone else sells it for you. You have to go that extra mile.”

Lord and her husband, Greg Lord, own Homes to Ranches Realty, Inc., which specializes in horse farms. If you’re looking to buy or rent a horse farm, you need to find a realtor who has knowledge of horses, Carla Lord said.

“We don’t bring any agents into our company that don’t own a horse or haven’t owned a horse or don’t have a horse farm because you don’t speak the language,” she said. “If the agent doesn’t know the lingo – barns, fencing, etc., they’ve lost them on the first sentence.”

For homebuyers, the first thing you need to figure out, Daugherty says, is how much house you can afford. The best way to do that is to get pre-approved by a bank or mortgage broker.

“Keep in mind any additional cost of living in the home as well,” he said. “The last thing I want is to sell someone their dream home, just to find out in a year or so they can’t afford it.”

Home sellers need to focus on two things: setting a realistic price, and curb appeal. “You may not agree with it, but if your agent does a CMA (Comparative Market Analysis), they should be able to show you in black and white what the comparable sales in the area have been,” he said. “That’s not always an easy task these days.”

As for curb appeal, Daugherty said sellers should strive to present their homes in their best condition. “If the outside looks good, most likely they’ll want to see the inside of your home,” he said. “Also make it easy to show. I know sometimes it’s an inconvenience, but it might just be that buyer you’ve been waiting for.”

These days many homebuyers are more informed, thanks to the Internet. As Lord says, they can go to realtor.com or any realtor’s website and see all of the listings. They’ve done their homework and looked at the property appraiser’s records and they know how much the homeowners paid for it. They’ve already driven by and looked at the property.

Still, homebuyers should work closely with the real estate professionals and let them do what they do best.

“We try to keep people from making bad mistakes,” she said. “We have some systems in place, provided by Florida Realtors and the National Association of Realtors, that provide the buyer with disclosures before they sign a contract.”

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