The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 15, 2007


Homes are moving in Carlisle, but slowly

It's a frustrating time to be in the Carlisle real estate market. Has the downturn ended? Have prices stabilized? Buyers who waited expecting to snap up deals have been disappointed, as were sellers expecting to cash out quickly. Over the past year sales have dropped and inventory has risen as homeowners and seekers waited to see where the market was headed.

But as the spring comes to a close, the two sides are starting to meet in the middle. "It's been a much healthier spring market this year than last," says Laura Baliestiero of Coldwell Banker. Town Assessor John Speidel agrees, "Things are moving. It's picked up. Some [homes] that sat a while are now selling." Says Phyllis Cohen of Barrett and Co., "Carlisle has done quite well. There are a number of houses under agreement." But she adds, "This does not translate into a booming market. Buyers are cautious. They are shopping."

From January to December last year, 49 single family home sales were closed in Carlisle. This compares to 81 in 2005 and 75 in 2004. The biggest drop was in homes over $1 million ­ 35 of these were sold in 2005 and only 18 in 2006.

The first five months of 2007 reflect a market that may be breaking out of gridlock. According to statistics furnished by Barrett and Co., 22 homes have closed, versus 21 at this time last year. In addition, 16 have recently gone under agreement but have not yet closed.

Good news for sellers? A closer look reveals many are taking less than they would have last year. In June 2006, the average sale price versus list was $927,262 to $974,338. This year it was $877,424 to $955,441. Many home-owners had reduced list price even before the sale, but on average, were still forced to take 9% less than asked. A key reason was that more properties had sat for many months on the market.The average seller in 2007 had waited nearly seven months for a buyer, versus a still-long five months in June 2006.

Price pressure continues

The current inventory of 45 homes indicates price pressure will continue. Assuming sales track as they did last year, a homeowner listing today can expect to wait, on average, 10.78 months to sell. For homes greater than $1.25 million, that wait would average 16 months. And these numbers do not take into account 14 offerings of land at Greystone Crossing on Cross Street which, if developed, could add significantly to high-end inventory. Of the 44 homes currently on offer, 22 are over $1 million, with 15 listing for over $1.25 million. So far this year nine homes over $1 million have sold, about 25% of the total.

On the lower end, there is also price pressure. Twenty-three homes are listed below $1 million, about nine months worth of inventory at current volumes. Nearly half the listings are in the $600K price range, where only 12% of sales occurred last year, and this is forcing price adjustments. Of ten homes listed at this level, five have reduced price. Baliestiero notes that while there is plenty of inventory on the lower end (15 listings below $700,000), "people [at this price point] often don't think to look in Carlisle."

Buyers take their time

But the good news is that buyers are looking and real estate offices are busy. "Sellers will have to have patience, but the buyers are out there," says Janet Cramer of Coldwell Banker. She notes that good properties still move quickly, some in one day (of 16 homes currently under agreement, four sold within a month). Cohen believes Carlisle is holding its own. "Buyers are coming to buy in Carlisle. In past years, they may think they want Concord and end up in Carlisle. [Now] many of the buyers I see want Carlisle specifically."

"Cautious" was the word that came up over and over in describing buyers. "They are thoughtful and much more cautious," says Baliestiero. "The market's improving, but there's a fear of overpaying." "Many buyers are uncertain," agrees Cohen. "The headlines one week say the housing market is coming back. The next week talks about the housing market being as dismal as the late 1980s." The result is "[buyers] are taking their time. There is no sense of urgency."

Pricing is key

Speidel says the market is starting to move because buyers see that property is holding value and have given up waiting for a crash. He also believes sellers have become more realistic in pricing. "There's lots of competition. You can't be stubborn about price, no matter how much the mortgage." He says some past downward adjustments may have resulted from initial over-pricing, "People need to ask themselves, 'Is it really a million-dollar home?'" He suggests sellers "Be realistic" and check around. Speidel recently sold his own home in Bedford, taking $70,000 less than what he wanted, but the house sold within two months.

There is one exception where pricing is concerned, says Speidel. "It looks like the high end is still going up." Recently two expensive properties have gone under agreement, one at Greystone Crossing that listed for $1.474 million and another at Buttrick Woods for $1.575 million. Recent sales at Hart Farm and Wilkins each surpassed $1.5 million, and an historic property on River Road fetched $1.9 million. A property listed on Bellows Hill Road will test the upper limit. The owner is asking $3.9 million.

But for most sellers at the mid-to lower end, it doesn't pay to be over-optimistic. "It is not like years ago when buyers were throwing caution to the wind for the house they wanted," says Cohen. "Some can afford more but are buying cautiously." As a result, prices are "on the edge of softening. Not a free fall, but not selling at a premium either." Baliestiero agrees, "Families are more concerned about energy and other monthly costs. I see a lot of people buying less than they can afford." She says this is "definitely a change" from a few years ago when "the big house was in vogue."

So aiming for a premium price in hopes of finding the buyer in love with your home is generally a poor strategy. "With so much to choose from, buyers are approaching the market in an unemotional way," says Baliestiero. She notes that price and condition are paramount. "Buyers are buying condition. No one wants a fixer-upper." And listing too high can mean a property sits for months. "Buyers are interested in new listings. The older listings begin to look a little tired," says Cramer.

Cohen offers this advice to sellers: "Price right. Have your home sparkling and inviting. It's a market of condition, price and luck. Many times you're competing with homes outside of Carlisle. Use a broker; broker-to-broker is still the way business is done. Use the web, print and open houses. Listen to your broker for staging suggestions."

And for the buyer? Cohen advises, "Don't get so hung up on the chase to find perfection. Purchase a home to enhance your life. Look at value and amenities. Don't forget quality of life. I have seen buyers pass by the house and community they really want for something that doesn't excite them, but they could get a deal on."

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito