Realtors share what it’s like buying and selling homes in the region’s most desirable areas.
By Lilla Ross
Every Realtor dreams of getting a listing in a hot neighborhood. You know the one, the house that stays on the market only days, even hours. But even those gems can present challenges for agents.
With inventory in Northeast Florida at historically low levels, agents say representing buyers and sellers in areas like Nocatee, Bartram Trails and OakLeaf Plantation have obstacles to overcome.
“Those neighborhoods are hot for a reason,” said Marc Jernigan, president of the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors. “One of the biggest challenges is having a lot of people putting in offers on the same house. You’ve got to know how to evaluate offers and negotiate.”
Negotiating is an art that can only be mastered by doing, Jernigan said. He declined to share what he knows about the art. “It’s a trade secret,” he said.
Joanie Heighes of Watson Realty’s Mandarin South office said getting buyers prequalified is important.
Heighes said her secret weapon in negotiating is an escalatory addendum, which lets a buyer specify how much they are willing to negotiate up. With that agreed on in advance, an agent can quickly make a deal, she said.
In a hot market, an inexperienced agent may learn some hard lessons if they’re negotiating with a seasoned veteran, said Jernigan, an agent with EXIT Realty. The buyer with the most money on the table isn’t always the one who moves in.
“The real value of a property is always an interesting question,” Heighes said.
Bidding wars are not uncommon in a hot market but an appraisal that comes in below the buyer’s offer has thrown cold water on more than one transaction. Sometimes the buyer and seller can work it out. But these days, there’s a good chance another buyer is waiting in the wings with cold, hard cash, she said.
As baby boomers retire and downsize, cash sales are becoming more common. But even that’s no guarantee.
“I have two couples who are looking for condos,” Heighes said. “There’s been three properties come up that weren’t matches for them. And they have cash. But they know I’m working on it.”
But even a quick transaction can be too quick if they seller doesn’t have a place to move. They face the prospect of moving twice and possibly putting furnishings in storage.
“We can help them find temporary housing but there’s a short supply of that,” Heighes said. “I use the Cabana Club on Baymeadows. I had four families there last summer.”
Agents also have to deal with desperate buyers, who can’t find the right house at the right price in the neighborhood where they want to live. That’s when agents get creative.
Heighes said she puts a search on Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and copies her client. As soon as a property comes on the market or drops in price, an alert goes out.
“When you get the alert, you have to reach out quickly. You have to run. Call and go see it immediately,” Heighes said. “If you wait a day or two, someone else will get it.”
Heighes said she was representing a seller in South Mandarin and mentioned to another agent that she was showing it to a prospect that afternoon. The other agent showed up first with her own prospective buyer who immediately made an offer.
Networking with other agents, especially those who specialize in a certain area, can turn up leads as well, she said.
“If you really get stumped, send a mailing out to that neighborhood. ‘I have a customer who is looking in your neighborhood. Are you considering selling? Please reach out to me,’” Heighes said. “I did that in some condos in Ponte Vedra and helped an investor that way.”
Jernigan cautions that if you say you have a buyer, there had better be one.
“If you don’t have someone ready, your credibility is shot,” he said.
Jernigan and Heighes said both buyers and sellers come to the market much more educated these days, having researched neighborhoods and financing options.
“That’s a good thing,” Heighes said. “They can understand and work with more information that we’re going to give them.”
Unfortunately, the information found on the internet isn’t always good information. Zillow and Trulia, for instance, aren’t updated in real time like Realtor.com, she said.
“You can have a buyer looking at a hot neighborhood and sees something as active that sold five days ago,” she said.
Better educated and expert are two different things, Jernigan said. And that means agents must be adept at managing clients’ expectations.
“You might have a seller who comes to you and says Zillow says my house is worth this much and then you have to explain how that’s not really what their house is worth. You are the market expert. You know the nuances.”