“Buyer's market" is not a term these people like to hear.
But what else do you call it when two different clients tell Keller Williams agent Karen Dennis they will consider only homes between 2,500 and 3,000 square feet with granite countertops and with bedrooms on the lower floors?
"One wants a formal area, one doesn't," she tells a room full of fellow agents. And "a three-car garage is minimum for both of them. One guy restores automobiles."
Dennis would love to find this needle in the haystack and earn a commission. So she makes her pitch at a recent Wednesday morning meeting of local real estate agents at Bloomingdale's Big Belly Burgers restaurant.
As anyone in this room will tell you, it has been a difficult stretch for people who make their living in the real estate industry.
"You have to love it," says Nancy Sobers, who, like most agents at the meeting, works at Keller Williams.
"I've threatened to fire myself several times."
It's almost hard to remember the days when real estate was that safe haven for families who needed a second income or corporate employees longing for more flexible hours.
Since the recession began, "a lot of seasoned veterans have quit and gone to other things," Sobers says. The National Association of Realtors reports that last year alone, the number of active real estate licensees in the United States fell by 7.5 percent.
Those who remain are the survivors, no longer impressed by bargains that would have been unthinkable in the boom years.
Like the five-bedroom in Panther Trace that Sobers has listed for $179,900. Or the $55,000 waterfront lot in Upper Tampa Bay (also Sobers').
Or a 2,900-square-foot home in Brandon's Oak Landings, lovingly maintained by two retired schoolteachers, now listed at $264,000.
The roof and air conditioner are brand-new, says the agent, Dan Henzler. "There's probably $25,000 worth of things you don't have to worry about doing."
Lisa Andersen, of Buckhorn Reserve, is a newcomer to the group. In fact, she's new to real estate itself, pitching her first-ever listing, a 3/2 in Valrico that has dropped from $215,000 to $187,900.
Laid off from a corporate accounting job in December, Andersen, 47, figured that instead of searching for another numbers-crunching desk job, she would give real estate a try.
"One of my friends said, 'Really?' " she said. "But I think the best time to go in is when everyone else is getting out."
A spirit of cooperation
The pitch meetings began about three months ago. Organizer Tim Ryan, who works for Fidelity National Title, said he and Henzler got the idea from a similar group in Pinellas County.
In better times, Henzler said, you might not see such cooperation among competitors.
"There were limited open houses and limited caravans," he said. "But with so many listings now, this is creating extra exposure. It is a great avenue."
Sometimes the meetings result in deals, he said. Other times, agents learn about trends in the industry, such as the availability of mortgage money for rural homes, or a loosening of credit for buyers who have cash but cannot demonstrate income from a traditional salary.
It's a quick process, in by 9 a.m. and out by 10. On Tuesdays, there is a lunchtime "caravan" through listed houses, so the agents will remember them more vividly than they would from an Internet view.
"I have literally sold homes from caravans," Dennis says. "I would have an agent go through and say, 'Oh, my gosh, I know so-and-so is looking for a house just like this.' "
Optimism in the air
As disastrous as the market has been, agents at the meeting see cause for optimism.
Henzler has been reading Greater Tampa Association of Realtors statistics, which show that after falling for four years, average sales prices are trending upward.
Ryan reports that he is handling a lot more deals that are not short sales.
"I think this is our time," he says. In the meantime, he hopes his Wednesday group will grow, supporting members until the recovery is in full swing.
"It goes back to grass roots," he says. "We all can't be on the computer all the time."
Marlene Sokol can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4602.