The December Dilemma

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When people ask me, “How’s business?”, I often suggest they need only look to my roots (as in my hair roots). If I am a little too dark around the edges, that is a tell-tale sign that I am quite preoccupied. Today, one might suspect that I got my styling tips from Courtney Love. My modern day answer, of course, is check the date stamp of my last blog entry.

At my house we have enjoyed our share of seasonal overload, and I must pause for a moment of on-line shopping Zen here. Thank goodness for on-line shopping, and for my new best friend, the UPS guy. First there was the office party at a colleague’s home (the front yard nativity scene ultimately included several cocktail napkins and what I could swear was the Baby Jesus eating a chicken skewer), the high school sports banquet (which culminated with the coaches telling a room full of 14-year-olds not to expect to make the team next year, as it will be very competitive and we will have a lot of tears – Happy Holidays!), Steve backing into my daughter’s car in the driveway again (the first time it was me, but don’t tell her about this latest incident – no evidence that we are aware of), a sick cat, a sick child, a house with enough dirt to support commercial agriculture, a trash crisis due to cans filled with take-out bags (and boxes compliments of the UPS guy), and a partridge in a pear tree.

And true to December form, business is busy! Our one open house over the weekend produced eighteen groups of visitors, this on the day after a heavy rain (BIG news in San Diego) and on the very afternoon that the Chargers were clinching the Division title and LaDainian Tomlinson was setting a single-season touchdown record. Most of the open house goers were very serious, and contrary to conventional bubble wisdom, the people Steve encountered were largely discretionary shoppers; no impending need to move, just a desire. By the way, notice I said Steve. This is our personal version of horse trading. “I will trade you one Open House for a Volleyball Banquet”. “Throw in a Property Showing at 10:00 tomorrow, and you have a deal”.

So, what gives? December gives. For us, showings are up, offers are materializing, and we are seeing a renewed home buying interest. I talked about the benefits of offering a home for sale in December here, and this year is no exception. Take our little community of Scripps Ranch. Our inventory of listings finally dropped below 100 homes this week from a high of 158 homes several months ago. The absencee of buyers is not an issue for us right now, as we are working with many. The issue is becoming one of too little, good inventory. January will naturally bring a wave of more listings, which will on the face benefit the buyers, but with that will come heightened buyer interest and competition.

The market statistics we updated this past week for San Diego County and the I-15 Corridor communities show little or no change in prices or market times from our last update. We hear words like “normal” and “stabilizing” and “correcting” to describe our current real estate environment, and many like to challenge the use of these terms as simply an industry’s attempt to sell the public a myth. From my vantage point, the view is fine. I have no doubt that, at least in our San Diego market, prices will continue to decline over the next year, but I also believe it will be a relatively soft decline. If you are on the sidelines but really have the desire to buy, you had better be putting Interest Rate Stability on your holiday wish list. Prices and interest rates go hand in hand in the cost equation. And, if you are currently renting, you may be finding a lump of coal in your stocking. As reported in the San Diego Union Tribune this morning, average rents in the county rose 5.8% over last year while vacancy rates decreased.

Trying to time a market can be a dangerous game and result in huge disappointment. I often think back to the late ’90’s when the stock of our local Qualcomm was enjoying a ridiculous ride. I met many, many lucky lottery winners (Qualcomm employees) who proudly announced that they were in no hurry to purchase in our escalating housing market because they were confident that their stock would outperform housing. Guess what? Talk about your lumps of coal.

Today, we have one offer to dispense with, one closing to oversee, a handful of escrows to monitor, numerous buyers to follow-up with, seven listings to manage and two more on the way, and I will be updating the year-to-date market statistics through November (and I really mean it this time!). That is, unless the UPS man keeps ringing the stupid door bell.

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