By Kathleen Lynn
RISMEDIA, October 15, 2010—(MCT)—Ken and Linda Bolsch put their five-bedroom, five-year-old Mahwah, N.J., colonial on the market in January, sure that buyers would appreciate its low taxes, wooded lot, and impeccable decor and landscaping. But after nine months—and a price cut from $925,000 to $749,000—the house is still on the market, with the couple looking at a substantial loss at that price. “We fell in love with the house from the moment we saw it, and we don’t know why other people aren’t doing the same,” Ken Bolsch said. “We’re so confused and confounded about the whole thing.”
These are tough days for sellers. Sales have plunged at least 20% from last year’s numbers, following the expiration of a federal tax credit for home buyers, and the real estate market is headed into a traditionally slow season. Small wonder that sellers feel discouraged and disappointed.
Bob Sandusky, the Bolsches’ agent, sums up sellers’ feelings in one word: “frustration.”
“They’re angry. They’re bitter. They’re in a bad place; they’re in a sad place,” said Attilio Adamo, a real estate agent in Harrington Park, NJ.
The usual prescription for a house that won’t sell is simple: Cut the price. “If the seller allows you to price it right, it goes,” said Roslyn Breitstein, an agent in Harrington Park, NJ.
But many sellers can’t stomach that thought. If they bought within the past few years, they may have mortgages bigger than the amount they could get for the house.
“They can’t believe that their house could be worth 30 percent less than what their neighbor got a few years ago,” said Barbara Liati, an agent in Tenafly, NJ. In fact, there’s one sentence that real estate agents hear over and over: “I’m not giving my house away.”
“It seems no matter what a person bought their home for, they do not feel in this economy they are getting the real value for their home,” said Ellen Weiner, an agent in Clifton, NJ.
And sellers have to deal with buyers who feel they have the upper hand. Buyers ask for lower prices, even if the price has already been cut. After a home is inspected, buyers will push sellers to correct even minor problems, agents say.
Moreover, buyers are in no rush to make an offer. “They’re worried about their jobs,” said Dick O’Connor, a Dumont, NJ broker. “People are looking at houses, but they won’t buy.”
“Buyers keep thinking there’s going to be a better deal around the corner,” Adamo said.
“The buyer population out there wants it for nothing, and they want all the bling,” said Elizabeth Sarkozi, a corporate tax manager who put her four-bedroom, 52-year-old Englewood Cliffs, NJ, split-level on the market last February, asking $925,000.
She expected it to sell quickly because of the town’s relatively low taxes and location near New York City’s George Washington Bridge. But although she has dropped the price to $899,000, she has not found a buyer.
Sarkozi has not updated her house with all the extras some buyers seem to expect—whirlpool tubs in the bathroom, granite countertops in the kitchen. But she thinks they wouldn’t be happy anyway: “I’m convinced that even if I had granite countertops, they’d say, ‘You have gray—I wanted brown.’”
She has seen nearby properties go for $200,000 or more off their listing price. She figures those sellers may be under pressure to sell because of job losses or trouble paying the mortgage. She is not in that position, but the distressed sales are hurting the value of her property, she said.
“I have a sense that people are holding back to see how much lower things will go,” Sarkozi said. “It’s a waiting game. Your property is really worth what someone is willing to pay for it, but I’m not going to give it away. I’ve done everything I can and when it’s still not working, what am I supposed to do? Manufacture a buyer?
“It’s a very frustrating market right now, and I’m really not hopeful until I see an uptick in employment,” she continued. “I don’t expect to sell the house anytime soon. It may be spring before I sell it.”
Agents often remind sellers that the lower price they get when they sell will be offset by the lower price they will pay on the next property.
That’s the attitude of Samantha and John Karageorge, who have signed a contract to sell their 20-year-old Demarest, NJ, contemporary. They’re selling for less than what they’ve spent on the house, including the 2006 purchase price and the cost of extensive renovations.
An interior designer with S and S Designs, Samantha said she is looking for another house to improve. In the current market, she expects to find some attractive deals.
“This market is going to work to our benefit on the buy side this time,” she said.
But many sellers find it tough to keep that in mind when a buyer is low-balling them.
Some sellers face unusual challenges beyond the market climate. In Pompton Lakes, NJ, banker Keith Orotosky put his expanded Cape Cod on the market last May. The meticulously updated and landscaped house is on a dead-end street just a few blocks from the lake. But Orotosky has had no offers, despite lowering the price to $379,900.
The house is in the so-called plume area, where hazardous chemicals from a nearby defunct DuPont munitions factory have been seeping under houses. Orotosky accepted DuPont’s offer to install a venting system to draw the dangerous vapors out of the basement.
“But people look at Pompton Lakes, and say, ‘I don’t want it,’” Orotosky said. He added, half-seriously, “There’s only two sections—plume or flood.”
When Orotosky’s parents moved from Paterson, N.J., and bought the house in 1950, they weren’t concerned about the DuPont plant. “Who knew?” Orotosky said.
He said the closest thing he’s gotten to an offer was a prospective buyer who asked his agent if Orotosky would take $175,000—more than half off his asking price.
The Bolsches think their location, on Mahwah’s Stag Hill, is also working against them. Though they are only about two miles from Route 17 and Route 287, some prospective buyers find the area too rural; they say they want more of a “neighborhood” feel, with other kids nearby for their children to play with. Others say they are intimidated by the twisting road through the woods up the hill, although the Bolsches and their agent assure them that Mahwah keeps it clear during snowy weather.
Ken Bolsch, a former restaurateur and caterer, said he “felt like I was in Vermont” when he first saw the house. He and his wife bought it from the builder in February 2005, paying $812,000. The 4,000-square-foot house has granite countertops and other upscale touches, and is on a sloping lot studded with boulders and landscaped with stone walls. Its taxes are only $5,900—low for North Jersey.
In January, after deciding to move to Florida to help their son start a power-washing business, the couple put the house on the market for $925,000. “I knew that was kind of pie-in-the-sky, but I thought, ‘Let’s see what happens,’” Bolsch, recalled. “I thought we’d be out before Memorial Day.” But it’s still on the market, now at $749,000.
(c) 2010, North Jersey Media Group Inc.
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