It appears we are poised for a very busy spring selling season, said Stephanie Doherty, Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in St. Charles.
"Things are usually very slow in January. That is when I generally take a vacation," she said. "But this year the phone started ringing on Jan. 2 with sellers wanting to list their homes. Instead of waiting until February or March, they want to list them now."
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This is probably a smart move for those sellers because inventory is quite low now and properties that are listed are getting lots of showings, Doherty said.
"We have lots of first-time buyers out looking for homes and they are getting some steals," Doherty said. "The opportunities for people with jobs and steady income are amazing because interest rates are still so low. I am encouraging them to buy because who knows what the future holds?"
How is the real estate market in the Fox Valley area faring?
"In 2012 I wrote over 100 deals that are closed or still pending. So properties are selling, but prices have not gone up. Sellers are still taking a big hit.
"I hear the national media talking about housing prices going up, but that is not the case in the Chicago area. It may be happening in Florida, Arizona and California, but not here. Our prices took such a big jump between 2005 and 2007 that we had to come down hard and we did. Our prices here in the Fox Valley are now down to 2001-2002 levels."
Bank-owned properties and short sales are also still entering the marketplace because banks held them back, hoping for better prices, and some troubled homeowners held on longer than others or suddenly need to relocate to another city.
"They haven't listed their underwater homes, but many also haven't been paying their mortgages. So now they are listing them as short sales in the hope that their lender will work with them."
Doherty is very experienced with listing short sales, which involves the lender agreeing to sell the house for less than it is owed.
"The majority of the people I am seeing now have never had credit issues before and suddenly they are finding themselves in this predicament because, unfortunately, most banks won't consider applications for loan modifications until homeowners are several months late on their payments. So attempting a short sale is one of the few options left to them.
"The fact that we still have so many bank-owned properties and short sales on the market is also affecting the prices of other resales. That makes it difficult for all sellers unless they are planning to buy another house and if that is the case, they can save enough money on their purchase to make it worth their while to move and possibly sell at a loss."
On the positive side, the fact that interest rates remain low is helping the market. Doherty knows this firsthand. Her husband, Don Doherty, is a loan officer with Wintrust Mortgage and "he is doing a ton of approvals. As long as people have good credit and a good income-to-debt ratio, most are getting approved."
Do you see more movement in any specific sector? Single-family, townhouses, condominiums?
"Townhouses and condominiums are currently hard to sell. First-time buyers used to buy townhouses and condominiums because that what was in their price range. But prices on single-family homes have come down so much that now buyers can purchase a single-family home for about the same price as a townhouse or condominium, so many choose to do that. Unless a buyer specifically wants a maintenance-free lifestyle, most prefer to buy a single-family home and avoid the monthly fees."
What needs to happen for the Chicago area real estate market to strengthen permanently?
"The state and federal governments need to get their fiscal houses in order and they need to get serious about creating jobs. If you don't have an assured job, you can't buy a house. And the uncertainty surrounding the entire economy is making employers hesitate to hire new people.
"Banks are giving people loans but you have to have a secure job to get a loan.
"I feel fortunate to have been a Realtor in the Fox Valley for 19 years with its great school district and beautiful downtowns. I attribute much of my success to the wonderful area where I sell."
But it also bears mentioning that Doherty expends lots of time, money and effort on the marketing of the homes she lists. She does not believe in simply listing a home and sitting back to see who calls.
"I make lots of use of both newspapers and Internet sites to highlight my homes and I believe that has a lot to do with my success."
For more information about Doherty, visit www.stephaniedoherty.com; read reviews by her past customers at www.zillow.com/profile/foxvalley-connection/Reviews/; or call (630) 643-3602.