Realtor Heather O’Sullivan (from left) is working with Mark and Laura Lizak on selling their home at 1909 Hallmark Lane in Landfall. (Photo by Chris Brehmer)
Heather O’Sullivan’s clients, who are potential homebuyers looking in the Wilmington area, might choose several houses they want to see, but that doesn’t mean that’s how many they’ll get to tour.
“I’ll book them and by the time we get to them, they’re already under contract the next day. One week it happened to me five times, three or four of the six to eight homes we were going to see were already under contract,” said O’Sullivan, a Realtor and broker with Network Real Estate in Wilmington.
Stories like O’Sullivan’s have become more commonplace in the region recently. Competition continues to heat up, especially for certain homes in certain locations in the area, trends that have led to ongoing drops in a statistic Realtors watch – days on market, or DOM.
Overall in New Hanover, Pender and northern Brunswick counties, the DOM figure for residential real estate listings in the N.C. Regional Multiple Listing Service has been on the decline since 2011, hitting a low of 95 for last year.
“When folks see something they want, you can’t force-feed them anything, but I also say if you really think this is the home you want to spend time in, then we should make an offer before someone else does,” O’Sullivan said.
Lisa Mathews of RE/MAX Essential in Wilmington recently sold a condo in a matter of hours.
“It hit the MLS around 8 o’clock on a Sunday evening, and by 11 o’clock Monday morning, I had an offer in my email,” she said.
Mathews said she’s seeing a lot of homes, especially under $250,000 that are not lasting more than a day or two.
“It makes it tough, though, when you’re working with people who are selling their first-time home and moving up to another purchase,” Mathews said. “And it can kind of get squirrely because their first house is getting a lot of activity, but then there’s a very limited supply in that secondary home market.
“When you have a young family that maybe bought a house five or six years ago for $150,000, and they’re ready to move up to the low $200s to go to the $250,000 and above. They’re still in that moving-up stage,” she added.
Homes that cost less than $200,000 have shown some of the largest decreases in DOM, according to March statistics from the Cape Fear Realtors group.
Last month, for example, the DOM figure was down 32 percent in March this year compared to March 2016 for houses that cost $150,000- $199,999, and the number of units sold had increased by 36 percent.
A lack of inventory remains a problem in general, according to Realtors. Absorption rates, calculated by dividing the total number of homes available in a market by the average number of sales per month, continue to decline in the tri-county region, down 25 percent in March compared to the same month last year in New Hanover County, nearly 31 percent in Pender and 16 percent in Brunswick, show the latest statistics from the Cape Fear Realtors.
“It’s hard when inventory’s low. It’s tough for buyers because they just have to be quick, and if something comes on the market, they have to jump on it and a lot of times, it forces some of these buyers to buy something sight unseen,” Mathews said.
Though home sales are rising each month, inventory shortages could affect those statistics at some point.
“I think we’d see a lot more homes sold if we had some more homes on the market,” O’Sullivan said.
Some potential sellers might be holding off, Realtors say, to recover value in homes they bought before the Great Recession or for other reasons.
“I think some of them are still scared of the market, and then some of them think they need to wait until it’s warm outside every day,” O’Sullivan said. “Whether it’s fall and everything in your yard is dead, if that is the right house, it’s going to sell. I’ve sold houses on Christmas Eve and on Thanksgiving. When it’s the right house, it’s the right house.”
Relying solely on DOM can be misleading for homebuyers in some cases. Six months to a year, O’Sullivan said, is a normal time to have a listing.
“I think the most important thing for folks to remember about DOM is that it means nothing when it comes to finding your home. Don’t let it stop you from looking at everything that’s available no matter how long it’s been on the market,” she said.
Factors that can extend DOM for a listing include homes that have had offers and contracts, but the buyers dropped out because of financing or some other reason, O’Sullivan said. Also, not having a home show-ready when people come to see it can make a difference, she said.
In some cases, existing homes are competing with older homes, though there are benefits to both types of housing, Realtors say.
“Building materials have gotten so expensive and land has gotten more expensive, so it makes it really difficult for builders to keep prices down,” Mathews said.
That can make it difficult for people who already live here to afford a new home, especially when buyers from elsewhere who have had higher- wage jobs or can work from home in higher-paid positions can therefore afford higher prices, she said. But Wilmington’s new-home prices still aren’t anywhere near what buyers would have to pay in some larger cities, Mathews said.
As it stands now, Realtors in the Wilmington area are working all the time, she said.
“I was on the phone last week at 10 o’clock at night brainstorming,” she said in an interview earlier this month. “Everybody’s working hard.”
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