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VOL. 125 | NO. 251 | Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Housing Endured Bumpy Ride in 2010

By Sarah Baker

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As the 2010 housing market seemed to get worse with every monthly report, local real estate professionals adjusted their routines to cope.

A lack of confidence in the market and uncertainty about the employment picture prevailed, keeping home sales about 15 percent off last year’s pace – which had been the lowest in decades.

Through Dec. 24, Shelby County had seen only 12,416 home sales, down from 14,591 for the same period of 2009, according to real estate information company Chandler Reports, www.chandlerreports.com.

Although the industry found a glimmer of hope in spring and early summer when the federal homebuyers tax credit spurred a slight uptick in sales, the program eventually ended, killing whatever momentum in the market it had built.

As the credit ran out, one tangible remained: record low financing. Homebuyers were encouraged to take advantage of low interest rates and lower price tags as an affordable way to move up.

The current rock-bottom rates even came as a surprise to real estate veterans like Landis Foy, vice president of the Memphis Area Association of Realtors and managing broker of Crye-Leike Realtors Inc.’s Quail Hollow location.

“I’ve been doing this for 40 years, and the only time I have not seen the interest rates fuel a marketplace is this particular time where we are at record lows,” Foy said. “It’s unheard of.”

To navigate the abysmal housing sector, Leon Dickson, owner broker of BenchMark at Southwind LLC Realtors, said he has relied on the nuts and bolts of real estate. Getting back to the basics, he said, will bode well when the turnaround finally happens.

“We know the market is going to improve, and when it does, we are ready to get back to what we were doing at first – being creative, sticking with it, making the phone calls that we didn’t used to make, doing more lead generating and staying in contact with our referral base,” said Dickson, who will serve as MAAR president in 2011.

To boost that customer base, agents and brokers alike are ramping up their marketing efforts. Carol Lott, broker with Prudential Collins-Maury Inc., has increased advertising this year in preparation for what she hopes will soon be improved sales.

To deal with the transitioning market, many real estate professionals have relied more on the Internet. Free social media tools like Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as websites and blogs, helped agents scale back on spending while increasing their profile.

Another trend that emerged was realty firms joining forces. In December, locally owned Kendall Haney Realty Group announced its merger with Austin, Texas-based Keller Williams Realty Inc., the second largest real estate firm in the Mid-South.

Kendall Haney, broker and owner of Kendall Haney Realty Group, will remain as principal broker of the new operation, Keller Williams Downtown Convenience Center, and will focus on growth of the Downtown and Midtown markets.

It wasn’t the only example. The Memphis market’s shaky conditions became evident in January 2009 when the realty offices of Re/Max on the River and Re/Max at Mallard Creek closed their doors, forcing about 42 agents to seek employment elsewhere.

The slowdown in sales has also affected membership numbers at MAAR, the trade association that celebrated 100 years in 2010. Its membership peak was in August 2007, when the count was about 5,400. As of October 2010, the organization had about 3,700 members.

But most of that huge drop occurred prior to the last 12 months, said Jules Wade, executive vice president.

“It’s not that numbers have dropped since then, its just these numbers are constantly moving targets,” said Wade. “This is probably the new normal – what it’s probably going to be for a while.”

Chandler Reports is a division of The Daily News Publishing Co. Inc.

PROPERTY SALES 36 154 6,546
MORTGAGES 34 94 4,129
BANKRUPTCIES 43 126 3,396