Open Houses Tell Stories Behind 'For Sale' Signs

The days of selling a house in a week appear over, while foreclosures are on the rise. Open houses in New Jersey illustrate how these trends are changing the way buyers, sellers and their agents approach the slower market.

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REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rebecca Roberts.

Much of the madness in the markets last week was blamed on fallout from risky loans in the sub-prime mortgage markets. And with analysts issuing dire warnings about shaky lenders and bursting bubbles, even borrowers with good credit have reason to worry. But amid the dim and gloom, there are still people trying to sell their homes. And for the lucky - buyers willing to purchase them.

We sent reporter Nancy Solomon to suburban New Jersey to find the stories behind the for sale signs.

NANCY SOLOMON: It used to be the three most important factors in real estate were location, location, location. Well, that might need a little updating to - timing, timing, timing.

Didi Kinerk(ph) put her house in Maplewood, New Jersey, up for sale last spring.

Ms. DIDI KINERK (Resident, Maplewood, New Jersey): Obviously, the years before the market had been amazing for sellers. And we've priced it at a price that we thought was reasonable. And the house sat and sat and sat.

SOLOMON: Kinerk and her husband Joseph Cummins(ph) were hoping to move to Seattle where she grew up and has eight siblings. But prices weren't dropping there and they weren't ready emotionally for this new buyer's market so they decided to delay their plans and took the Jersey house off the market.

Ms. KINERK: Unfortunately, the timing of the market, the timing of our expectations and the timing of the inventory out there sort of came together to make it not happen for us.

SOLOMON: Steve Trombecky(ph) put his Newark home up for sale at about the same time because he and his wife want to move to a suburban town nearby where his 7-year-old attends a private school. It's been a year and a half and he is working with his third realtor.

Mr. STEVE TROMBECKY (Resident, Newark, New Jersey): My wife and I had our set price. We knew the market was changing. This house is very dear to my wife. She's been here 25 years. And I've been here 16 since we've been married. So she didn't want to move for the price and I accepted that.

SOLOMON: But they have now. It's $20,000 lower and they're still waiting for a buyer.

Eric Thurmond(ph) and his wife found a house they loved at Maplewood so they decided to buy it before selling their current home. They closed the deal for the new house on August 31st and are hoping to quickly sell their current house.

Mr. ERIC THURMOND (Resident, Maplewood, New Jersey): Frankly, we're nervous. Even in the month or so when we first put in on the offer for the new house, the market has changed a lot. For instance, part of the drama we're in right now is that the lender, with him, we have a loan for the new house is - was teetering on bankruptcy in the last couple of days.

Ms. LOUISE PICHARDO (Realtor, Realty Executives): Hello.

ANTHONY(ph): Hi.

MS. PICHARDO: Anthony, Louise Pichardo.

ANTHONY: Oh, hello. Hello.

Ms. PICHARDO: I'm from Reality Executives and I represent the seller.

ANTHONY: Uh-huh.

SOLOMON: Realtor Louise Pichardo is showing a perspective buyer and his agent a large house in the Forest Hill section of Newark. Gone are the days when Pichardo would hold an open house visited by 30 or 40 people. Gone are the days she'd have contracts ready to be signed on the dining room table. Now, she gives tours one buyer at a time and doesn't bother to bring the contract with her.

ANTHONY: Okay. The floors are in great shape.

Unidentified Man: Okay.

ANTHONY: The floors are beautiful.

Ms. PICHARDO: Mm-hmm.

ANTHONY: What's that behind there?

SOLOMON: Pichardo says she now must work doubly hard and spend more money on advertising.

Ms. PICHARDO: More open houses. More Internet resources. It is a buyer's market. There's more inventory out there. Buyers are more choosy because they know that they can look at 10 houses compared to five years ago where there was maybe three houses and eight buyers for that one particular home.

SOLOMON: But she still selling, Pichardo stresses, despite the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market, despite the foreclosures since cities like Newark that put downward pressure on prices. And compared to most places in the country, the prices are still pretty high. The asking price for this six-bedroom house in Newark is $534,000. And at least for now, that's considered a steal in this region.

For NPR News, I'm Nancy Solomon.

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