Tuesday, October 13, 2009

News from Around the Country

I just got back very late last night from Cincinnati, where The Leadership Council (a group of large independent real estate brokerage firms from around the country) met at Comey & Shepard's offices there. The trip itself was uneventful, except for the US Air flight from Philadelphia to Dayton (no, there's no more direct flight from New Haven to Cincinnati!), where the gate attendant announced that the plane had no working bathroom. Sounding just like someone's mother, she then proclaimed that, if you thought you'd have to go, you should go now, before getting on the plane! A new low in air service---and they're probably working on coin-operated toilets as we speak....

We always learn a lot at these meetings, and this one was no exception. On a beautiful fall Sunday, we sat in a windowless basement conference room all day, and listened to tales of woe from around the country. The brokers in this group were all hoping that the bottom has arrived; indeed, there are some signs that it has passed. Their average sale prices, however, were all down from a year ago, and most had unit declines of 10 to 20% from a year ago, and a two-year decline of more than that. Homes under $200,000 are selling everywhere, mostly to first-time homebuyers. Homes over $700,000 are not selling anywhere, to anyone.

In a twist on the common phrase, there is no broker left behind. All of us have had trouble getting transactions closed in this market. Financing is hard. Closings are delayed or cancelled. There doesn't seem to be any difference in big companies vs. small; all are affected. In fact, so-called traditional brokers are doing better than the discount or 100% companies in percentage of business. All parts of the country have had issues, although the places that didn't go up much (in our group, Tulsa and Des Moines) are much less impacted now. In fact, those companies in our group are chugging along. New construction and commercial real estate were low points for pretty much every firm.

We remained optimistic and, for the most part upbeat, helped by good food and plenty of wine. Next spring, when we meet in Iowa, we'll be hoping to break out the champagne. Until then, it's back to work!