The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 14, 2006


Who is the Carlisle home buyer?

As the first three months of the 2006 real estate season close, a confused market is reflected in brokers' comments. "I think the market is very positive," says Phyllis Cohen of Barrett and Company. "I'm optimistic." "It's been a disappointing spring market" says Coldwell Banker's Laura Baliestiero. "Sellers' expectations are not being met." Marguerite Widell of Carlson GMAC Real Estate notes, "Buyers are out there, but they're taking their time. They're looking for value and condition."

The difference in opinion perhaps reflects a "glass half full" versus "glass half empty" perspective. Compared to past years in which Carlisle sellers could expect to get close to asking price (and sometimes more), recent months have required a much more sober and realistic approach to house pricing. Compared to a year ago, when sellers were getting 99% of asking price, recent sales have closed at 90%. Early spring sales have not been robust, with only three homes closing in January and February, while 22 new listings were added to inventory. And where inventory on the low—to-mid level was at one time so scant homes sold within days, the number of offerings has built significantly over the past eight months, resulting in longer times to sell.

Million dollar sales stay strong

On the other hand, nearly as many million dollar homes sold last year as in the previous two years combined (35, versus 23 in 2004 and 15 in 2003). Says Cohen, "If that doesn't say something huge about Carlisle — I remember when it was a big deal to sell a couple million dollar homes per year." As a result, according to Cohen, the average sales price rose to $1,001,528. The previous year it was $872,000.

The pace of million dollar home sales has continued. As of the beginning of April, of eleven closings this year, six were homes selling for over $1 million. Four additional homes asking over $1 million hare under agreement. And of homes sold in Carlisle within the past six months, 46% were over $1 million, according to data supplied by Coldwell Banker from Multiple Listing Service (MLS).

Lower end lags

But while the number of million- dollar homes sold jumped 50% in one year, fewer homes were sold in the under-million categories. In 2005, 46 homes under one million were sold, a 12% decrease over 2004, when 52 were sold. Does the change in mix represent escalating prices?

Whereas in past years, low-end sales were depressed by a limited number of offerings, that is no longer the case. Throughout much of 2005, the number of under-million dollar homes offered was up as much as 100% over the year before. And in current inventory, it is the low end that shows an eight to nine month backlog — 21 homes are listed under $800,000, while 27 sold in that price range within the past year. "This was a great price point, but now there's an enormous amount that need to sell," says Baliestiero. In contrast, though higher price usually means more time on the market, 19 homes are listed for over $1 million, representing only about six month's sales.

Executive cachet

Cohen says Carlisle has "executive cachet" and is "a magnet for the upper end." The town has many "exceptional properties" and an area like Tall Pines with its well-kept homes and manicured lawns, is attractive to the million-dollar buyer. In addition the town is seen as "a good deal in comparison with Concord" and other high-end towns.

"The high end in Carlisle is pretty brisk," she says. "Sales are tracking well, with some multiple offers." She points to two properties, one listing for $1.6 million and one for $1.3 million that recently sold within one week. But Baliestiero sees buyers "worried about a bubble and cautious about what they pay." She also has observed fewer relocation buyers, and "Those are the best buyers, because they have to buy." In addition, the aging of the population and worries about the economy have reduced the number of buyers looking to trade up within Carlisle. "It's a change from the past. People are becoming more conservative."

"How come my house hasn't sold?"

The competition is stiff — Cohen points to a unique property on Westford Street, a home on Hutchins Road in which "the finishes are incredible," and an offering on Partridge Lane she calls "perfection." "The exceptional jumps out," she says, and buyers "shy away if a property needs work." Baliestiero agrees, "Condition is huge. No one wants a fixer-upper these days. People are busy and active and have no time for repairs." She has a stager visit each of her listed properties to make recommendations for sprucing up, including mulching planting beds, decluttering counters, painting and repair, and other simple fixes. Widell agrees, saying, "Homes that sit for six or seven months usually are not presented to the best of their ability. Buyers can't see through a diamond in the rough."

Sometimes it's not clear why a home isn't selling. A few years ago, it was believed if homes were available in the $500,000 to $600,000 end of the Carlisle market, sales would skyrocket. Now the homes are available, and that hasn't happened. Many of the recent sales on the lower end have been on the market for six months or more.

Is it that the lower-end buyer is more susceptible to a weak economy and fears of skyrocketing fuel prices? Is that buyer more likely to look in other towns? Cohen notes that, whereas executives see Carlisle as a bargain compared to Concord, mid-range buyers may compare a Carlisle property to one in Westford and wonder why they're not getting as much. In addition, while Carlisle's reputation as an "executive town" helps sell high-end properties, it may perhaps make buyers in a lower price range wonder if the town is the right fit for them.

Price is important

While there are buyers out there, "It's not a great market to overprice," says Cohen. Widdell notes that of 148 homes on the market last year, 81 sold, but 42% had a price reduction. There are plenty of competitive offerings in every price range, and average days on the market has been on the increase, now reaching 122 versus an average of 115 last year and 84 in 2004.

That said, no one really expects major price cuts. Jim Marchant of the Board of Assessors says: "Appreciation is not what it was, but prices are not going down." He points out that recent land sales such as one at Hobble Bush (Benfield Land) have topped $700,000, whereas two years ago, "land was selling in the 400s."

"I'm very high on Carlisle," says Cohen. The town is seen as well-run with "fantastic volunteers," natural beauty, and "a great location, ten minutes from any choice you want." Adds Widell, "Carlisle is a good value when compared to other towns around us. With the excellent school system and available land, it's a good bang for the buck."

Photos by Mollie McPhee Ho

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito