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Some must sell homes despite market

February 21, 2009|By ARNOLD PLATOU

o Coming Monday: Getting the price right is the key to selling success.

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- When Gertrude "Trudy" Brodowski died, her sister decided to stay in Hagerstown until Trudy's house was sold rather than return to her own home in North Carolina.

Trudy died Feb. 23, 2008 -- almost a year ago today -- and her baby sister, Patricia Nostitz, finally has gotten a contract on the house.

The selling price is $60,000 less than Nostitz first had asked, but after waiting all this time, she is ready to go home.

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"Believe me, it has been a long haul," she said. "This economy, it's a tough economy."

Matt and Allison Weaver know that.

But last month, along with 153 other families in Washington County, the Weavers put their brick rancher in Halfway up for sale.

"Yes, we are nuts," Allison Weaver said with a short laugh when asked: Why now, of all times?

Wondering why

Why would anyone put their property up for sale now, during what is the worst time in years to try to sell a house?

On average, it took 163 days -- more than five months -- to sell a house in Washington County last year.

Even then, according to the latest data from Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. (MRIS), homeowners had to drop their original list prices an average of more than 13 percent, netting a median price of $195,000 -- the lowest such price since 2004.

Today's market is a far cry from 2005, when sales reached an all-time high here. That year, total sales rose a dizzying 45 percent to $578 million, the average deal came in just 50 days, sale prices averaged within 3 percent of list and the median price was $225,000, MRIS figures show.

Then came 2006 and misery began to set in as here and throughout the nation, the riskiness of subprime loans hit the news, loan credit standards tightened, foreclosure became a household word, and housing prices slowed their ascent, then began to drop.

Last year, the county's overall housing sales market shrunk 22 percent to $226.6 million, according to the latest MRIS report.

So why would anyone try to sell their house in this kind of market?

"There's all kinds of reasons," said Hagerstown broker Jim Ward, who owns Advantage Realty. "It deals with life circumstance. Divorce. Did they suffer a death in the family? Did someone move to a retirement community? We have still a good many estate sales. Did they lose a job? Did they get transferred?"

And for many people who used easy financing to buy houses during the boom days of 2003, 2004 and 2005, the reasons are fear of foreclosure and bankruptcy, Realtors said.

No takers

Allison Weaver, 40, has fond memories of times growing up when she visited her grandparents in the 10900 Clinton Ave. house where she, her husband and their three children live.

But since Matt Weaver, 40, landed a job last fall as marketing director at a company in Timonium, Md., he has had to commute, and that has been difficult.

So late last month, even though they knew the economy is against them, the Weavers put their home up for sale.

"We need to relocate," Allison Weaver said. "It's a good thing for us. It's just a bad time to do it."

She said they thought their four-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath house with lots of upgrades and a fenced-in backyard was worth about $225,000. But after talking to an agent at Advantage and seeing the lower prices for which comparable houses have been selling, they listed it at $215,000.

Nonetheless, "we have had no one call us," Allison said. "We've had some interest, but no one's come to see us. Nothing."

So now, they've dropped the price to $206,000.

Still, they know they're likely in for a wait.

Indeed, they planned for it.

"We know the average sale is taking five or six months," Allison said. "We're hoping it'll sell by the time the children get out of school for the summer, so that's why we listed it in January."

The good news is the Weavers bought the house, where Allison remembers hunting Easter eggs, for a pre-boom price in 1998 to settle her grandfather's estate.

So, unlike many homeowners now saddled with mortgages higher than their homes are worth, she and Matt are "lucky in that respect," Allison said.

The bad news is, houses cost a lot more in the central Maryland area, where they were going to move.

"Carroll County ... it's just out of this world, pricewise," she said. "Yeah, a home like ours -- which right now is 210, 215, 206 (thousand dollars) -- you're going to end up paying 325, 350 (thousand dollars)."

So, they might have to move to Pennsylvania and endure a bit of a commute.

"We're looking probably within a 30-mile radius of York, Pa., just because, I think, the cost of living is a little better there," Allison said.

Hanging tough

Patricia Nostitz, 54, didn't have a choice about having to put her sister's 1422 Potomac Ave. home on the market during the worsening economy.

Just as when Trudy, widowed and stricken with cancer, gave her sister power-of-attorney, Nostitz took the responsibility without hesitation.

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