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Home seller's relief

Hagerstown house closing is an early Christmas gift

Hagerstown house closing is an early Christmas gift

December 22, 2007|By ARNOLD S. PLATOU

Editor's note: This is one in an occasional series of stories about the local housing market and what's happening to residents as they grapple with interest rates, tightening credit, falling home prices and other economic issues.

T'was nine weeks before Christmas,

And all through the house,

Not a purchase offer was stirring,

To the distress of each spouse...

It had been a year and four months since Gary and Maggie Schweitzer put their house near Hagerstown up for sale, and they were ready for a break.

So they packed the car and headed toward the mountains of New Mexico, where they had long hoped to retire.

Late morning on the third day, about four hours south of Dodge City, Kan., their cell phone rang.

It was their Realtor calling with incredible news: Two offers had come in, simultaneously!

"It was very unexpected, certainly," said Gary Schweitzer, 61.

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The leading offer came from Tim and Ursula Mauro, a young couple who have two children and were renting a townhouse in Frederick, Md.

Ursula Mauro thought Realtor Eric Verdi was lost when he turned into Brightwood Acres East and she saw the big lots and big houses.

"I was like, 'We can't afford anything in this neighborhood,'" she recalled. "Like, 'Did he make a wrong turn?'"

Verdi knew what he was doing. Housing prices have been falling since reaching record heights two years ago.

Pumped by easy loans, and big city builders and commuters discovering rural communities, area land and house prices had risen rapidly since 2000. But in 2005, a stall kicked in as loan interest rates suddenly jumped, credit standards tightened, foreclosure became a household word and gasoline prices increased.

Settlement prices in Washington County have fallen from $248,904 for the average home in November 2006 to $207,827 last month, according to Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc., which tracks sales.

Natives of Pittsburgh, Gary and Maggie Schweitzer moved to Hagerstown in 1988 when he got a job in human resources with Grove Manufacturing in Shady Grove, Pa., and she as an elementary reading specialist in Chambersburg, Pa.

They spent about $160,000 building the two-story custom brick house on a half-acre lot at 11139 Mahogany Drive in Brightwood. With 2,000 square feet, the house has three bedrooms, two and-a-half baths, a family room, a dining room, a living room and a two-car garage.

Gary retired in 2004 and after Maggie retired two years later, they decided to sell and move to New Mexico, where they'd bought land years ago.

When they listed the house at $380,000 in late June 2006, they knew the timing wasn't the best.

"We figured selling it would take several months ? certainly by October, I thought," Gary said.

But by October, even after several showings, there were no offers, he said. So, working with Realtor SuZanne Glocker, they cut the price by $10,000.

Still, nothing.

As Christmas neared, "we were still optimistic," he said. The months passed and the couple dropped the price repeatedly, but the only offer - about $270,000 ? "was so lowball that we didn't even respond," he said.

"...So, I think, hopes began to fade in late spring or early summer."

The asking price was $330,000 in late October when the Mauros came by.

Tim Mauro, 33, grew up in a rural area near Albany, N.Y. Ursula Mauro, 32, moved to the United States from Peru when she was 6 and grew up in Gaithersburg, Md. They met while vacationing in Florida, married 10 years ago and have two children, Anthony, 6, and Katie, 5.

From the moment they saw the house in Brightwood, "we fell in love with it," Tim Mauro said. And, he said, the location seemed perfect, even though it's a longer commute to Gaithersburg, where he is the Chevrolet sales manager at a new car dealership.

So the Mauros made an offer. The Schweitzers faxed a counteroffer from New Mexico and, within a week, they had a deal: The price was reduced to $319,600 and the Schweitzers would pay more than $9,000 in closing costs, Verdi said.

With that price and as first-time homebuyers, the Mauros qualified for Maryland's new Community Development Administration program, he said. It provides downpayment help and gave the couple a fixed 6.5 percent interest rate on a 30-year mortgage.

The contract, signed Dec. 7, gave the Schweitzers $70,000 less than they'd originally been asking, but they were truly delighted, Gary Schweitzer said.

It will enable them to build their dream retirement home next spring. "We love the West, and if there's a price to be paid for that, then, certainly, yes, we're willing to pay that," he said.

"Plus, it looks like things (in real estate) will certainly get worse for the near term."

There's another reason, too, said Maggie, who is 59. "Not having children but having worked with children, I find satisfaction that there are going to be two kids in the house. We really do feel good that a nice family is going to be living in the home."

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