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RISMEDIA, Sept. 24, 2007-(MCT)-Dallas investor Dean Lontos rode the recent real estate boom, one house at a time.The former lender started buying houses as an investor in January 2006 to cash in on what he saw as a booming market. After renovating them, he resold for a tidy profit. And business was good. Entrepreneurs like Mr. Lontos carved out niches in the expanding industry, while homeownership opened up to more Americans than ever.

But the subprime mortgage woes that have hit lenders and hedge funds around the world are making their way onto the balance sheets of businesspeople like Lontos as well.

“It’s a lot more difficult to sell property now,” he said, as foreclosures add to an increasingly bloated market.

As of last week, 34,635 residential foreclosure postings had been recorded in the four-county Dallas-Fort Worth area for 2007, according to Foreclosure Listing Service in Addison. And postings in Dallas and Denton counties are still rising.

So Lontos is preparing for a protracted slowdown.

“It’s pretty naive to think we have a downward blip for just six to 12 months and we’ll be fine after that, after a five-year run-up in values,” he said. Economic dips “tend to always last longer than people believe upfront.”

“It’s more of a buyer’s market, and I feel it will maintain that way for a while,” he said.

So, while Lontos is on the hunt for great deals as a buyer, he’s pricing the homes he’s selling much more conservatively — all the while stockpiling cash for safety’s sake and to take advantage of homes coming up in foreclosure in 2008.

“Depending on the price level of the property, I might discount 5 or 10 percent” from recent sales data, he explained.

Lontos is also focusing on rentals, especially in the $100,000 to $150,000 range. Selling a home may be harder now, but renting one has become easier, he said.

Of the 33 homes he purchased in the Dallas area over the last year and a half, 14 were rehabbed and sold, but 15 are being leased. He has three others up for sale and is finishing renovation on another. The rental strategy works well for a group of 50 homes he recently bought in Atlanta.

“Because the portfolio is leased, we have the luxury of waiting out the market,” he said.

He praised the Federal Reserve’s move Tuesday to cut rates by a half-point. It should help keep home values stable while allowing mortgages to stay affordable for creditworthy families, he said.


49,095: Number of homes for sale in North Texas at the end of August, up 5% from last year. That’s a 6.4-month supply, compared with 5.9 months a year earlier.

66: Average days on the market, down 3% from a year ago.
SOURCE: North Texas Real Estate Information System

Copyright © 2007, The Dallas Morning News
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.