Trader Joe's – Now offering real estate market trends.

Trader Joe's Chardonnay
Creative Commons License photo credit: Dave Photography

If you have your home listed for sale, know that contracts are likely going to be harder to come by in August. Know this because the guy at Trader Joe’s said so.

“How’s business?” I asked with feigned cheerfulness, trying desperately to redirect my attention away from the total on the register.

You see, we here at Casa de Berg have been childless for two long weeks as our tadpoles were off exploring countries we will never visit given our family’s current collective burn rate. During this time, Steve and I have chosen to live off the land, winging it where meals are concerned. Consequently, this was a big restocking trip, and had Trader Joe’s been a publicly held company, there would be a strong “buy” rating out this morning.

“Given the sudden spike in sales of pre-cooked, frozen consumables – particularly in the orange chicken category – our analysts are predicting earnings to kick the estimates’ butts!”

So, how’s business at Trader Joe’s? Apparently my recent outing was not representative of the local consumer-at-large. “Suddenly, it has been very slow. We think it may be because everyone is on vacation.”

Bingo! It’s almost August, and you can set your oven timer by it – this seasonal outmigration of interest in anything but barbeques and summer fun. We see it every year. August marks the last chance at vacation, a last hurrah before school starts and before the yuletide music is cued. August is always slow for us in real estate.

We will read in September, of course, that sales were up in August. What many forget, however, is that August sales reflect June and July showings and contracts. If you want to know what to expect in terms of August buyer demand, ask John the cashier.

The August factor locally may be more pronounced yet, as we have had one of the coldest, most sunless springs on record. (I can’t back this up will statistics, but you can just ask the John. He will confirm that we have had to wear our warm flip-flops more often this year than in past years.) Trips to the beach and the backyard pool parties, consequently, have been on the backburner until now.

Now, I know this is short on fancy charts and graphs and long on instinct, but that is often the best way of predicting the future. If we wait for the Case-Shiller numbers to come out, we will already be living in a new month and a new market. The analysts talk about things after they have happened; real estate agents – and the guy at Trader Joe’s – see it and sense it before it happens.

Case in point is our lock box openings. First there are showings, then there are contracts, and contracts are followed by closings. That is the natural order. If you want to predict the future, start at the beginning and not at the end. While I am not privy to lock box opening statistics MLS-wide, I can give you the trends from our own.

While the numbers of showings for our company’s pricier listings were expectedly fewer than for the more affordable offerings, the trend was consistent across price ranges. During the first two weeks of April, activity was brisk, but during the last two weeks of April, buyers turned on the brakes. During the first three weeks of May, our sellers heard crickets. For this, we can blame the expiration of the homebuyer tax credit programs.

Beginning the last week of May and continuing through the second week of June, showings were significantly up again. But just as suddenly, during the last two weeks of June, things slowed measurably. This we can attribute to the end of the school year; so many graduations and other family obligations can be a real drain on the old free time and house-hunting enthusiasm.

The first two weeks of this month saw a return to the shopping season. But, here is the kicker. Last week, the well of motivated buyers seemed to again run dry.

So, the guy at Trader Joe’s may be right. I may pop back in today to see where he thinks interest rates are heading, or to ask him his opinion on that rumored double-dip. It just occurred to me that I forgot to buy eggs.

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