Craig Beggins, 40, runs the largest Century 21 real estate agency in north-central Florida. Like its peers in the home selling business, Beggins' Century 21 Enterprises experienced a rough couple of years of shrinking employment, sales and prospects. Located in southeast Hillsborough County's Apollo Beach, near the heart of the investor-fueled real estate boom of 2005, he's absorbed a number of hard lessons. He recently shared some of those with the Times:
What's the word on the home sales front these days?
I don't want to sound like one of those real estate brokers desperate to stir up sales. But we are selling stuff, and the glut of inventory homes is receding. A neighborhood called MiraBay had been running about 140 homes for sale. For the first time, we're below 100 there. Another neighborhood called Covington Park was running 140 homes for sale. There's 59 now. Houses that sold for $250,000 are going for $130,000. Everyone talked about a perfect storm. Right now there's a perfect calm: low interest rates, a tremendous supply and low prices. If now's not the time to buy, when is it going to be? We're getting into bidding wars with foreclosure homes. And we hadn't talked about multiple offers in three years.
Who's the typical buyer?
We're selling to real home buyers. It's not mostly investors. We're not seeing the hedge funds come in buying up whole rows of houses. I have a woman who works for me. She came from Louisiana. She found a 1,900-square-foot foreclosure house that once sold for $270,000 that she got for $140,000. Her payment is just $900 a month, and she can't wait to get her $7,500 tax credit from the federal government.
How has your company adjusted to the market slump?
In 2002 we had $6 million in commissions, or about $180 million in sales. It went up each year: $8 million, $12 million, $15 million. Now it's gone down by almost exactly the same numbers in reverse, like an upside-down "V." I have 120 producing agents vs. 180 at peak. But I'm on an agent hiring spree now. The more people I have out there, the better it is for me. I've reduced office staff from 36 to 18.
What's a real estate agent got to know these days?
The first thing you need is patience. Buyers are afraid to buy. Every seller thinks his house is worth more than it is. I met with every agent. Everybody had a ton of listings. I said, "How many do you think will sell?" They said, "30 percent maybe." I said, "Guys, let's stop it." We can't take such listings when 70 percent don't sell. I actually applaud my agents who don't take overpriced listings. Short sale (when homes sell for less than what is owed on the mortgage) knowledge is also critical.
If you're not into that, you're missing 30 percent of the market.
When will the market make a full recovery?
I'm telling everyone three to five years from now. We are going to have more foreclosures on the market, which will suppress price increases. All the mortgage resets haven't happened yet. If employment keeps going down, it's going to proliferate into something bad for real estate.