Friday, August 10, 2007

Regional Spotlight: Bakersfield, Calif.-area real estate professionals face tough market positively

RISMEDIA, July 18, 2007—(MCT)—The homes are no longer selling themselves.But local real estate professionals admit no fear. Surviving in a slow market just takes experience and a few solid business tactics, they say.

“The companies that are successful are the ones that do good business, regardless of whether the market is up or down,” said broker Scott Tobias.

He had enough confidence in that principle to strike out on his own in June, leaving Watson Realty ERA to open Scott Tobias Real Estate. He now manages a small staff that he thinks is hungry for guidance in a tough market.

Houses still sell if they are priced right, said Tobias, a 30-year veteran of the real estate business. He tells his agents to be wary of taking overpriced home listings. He holds weekly meetings to pour over the latest statistics on sales and housing inventory.“You have to know the market’s going down,” Tobias said.

Agent Jon Busby, of Bakersfield Premier Realty, was equally adamant about the importance of accurate pricing. Busby said most sellers are realistic, but others are “trying to latch on to an equity amount that’s no longer there.”

On the flip side, buyers have gotten pickier, he said. And some have unrealistic expectations of scoring nonexistent bargains.

Other firms have downsized. Scott Rivera Real Estate Team released a receptionist and a marketing staffer.

“We do more with less,” president and broker Scott Rivera said. “You have to, to keep it profitable.” In addition to good pricing, Rivera advocates aggressive marketing. Color fliers, advertising, an enhanced presence on and a nightly television show, “The Best Buys of Bakersfield”, all help his company to sell homes faster, he said.McKinzie Nielsen Real Estate lost some of its agents as the market softened.

Many in town who snapped up real estate licenses during the boom were unprepared, said partner Karen McKinzie.

“They didn’t have a true conceptual idea of how difficult this business is, and some of them went away,” she said.

When McKinzie opened the residential arm of her firm with partner Dave Nielsen in 2004, she could hardly hire agents as the market went wild. And sometimes the wait for an appraisal was three weeks.

“It was just a different set of challenges,” McKinzie said. “The job wasn’t any easier.” The new work includes a lot of expectations management, McKinzie said.

Sellers have to understand that a house might take a bit longer to sell and that it won’t garner as much as it might have just two months earlier.

Experience handling foreclosures for banks has helped broker Darrell Sparks make up for diminished standard sales. He estimates that foreclosures make up about 50% or 60% of his business now. But he cautions against jumping into the field just because foreclosures are increasing.

“The foreclosure business is not something you just kind of sign up for,” said Sparks, who runs Sparks Realty. “It’s something you handle for the bank in both the good times and the bad times.” Working for the bank requires delicate negotiations, like making sure previous owners leave the property in good condition, he said. Then there are the “trash outs,” where Sparks arranges to clean up a home left littered with junk.

One of Tobias’ agents, Denise Martin, is focusing on what she considers the basics of her profession: staying in touch with past clients to gain new ones. Then she attends to the details with sellers. No musty cigarette smells, no trash — a house has to stand out, she said.
“I’ve got people out planting flowers, greening up the grass and making the inside look nice,” Martin said.

Copyright © 2007, The Bakersfield CalifornianDistributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.