Amid recession, offers for home 'insulting'

August 04, 2012|By ARNOLD S. PLATOU |
  • Washington County home sales
Washington County home sales

When Donovan and Laura Bachtell put their luxury three-bedroom town home up for sale in 2008, they had no idea of the bargain-basement fever the recession was causing.

“We just thought it would sell. I don’t think we thought about how long it might take,” Donovan Bachtell said last week.

The property, in the Arborgate development north of Hagerstown, didn’t sell until this spring, but that isn’t what angers Bachtell.

“Honestly, the worst was the first offer from (one Realtor). It was ridiculous,” he said. “Say it was listed at $340,000 and she offered us $250,000, which was ridiculous.”

“That was the absolute worst part of it and we had other offers like that. The worst thing was the Realtors being insulting. It was insulting. It was insulting,” Bachtell said.

Yet such low offers became common during the recession, especially for properties on the market much longer than others, according to Realtor Frannie Parks, who was the Bachtells’ listing agent.

Such offers have been bruising to many homeowners, Parks said.

She said she understands the other side, too. She said she has represented would-be buyers in making such low-ball offers.

“When you’re working with a buyer, you have to do what they ask,” Parks said. “It doesn’t mean we don’t tell them, ‘It’s (the offer) too low and you might offend the sellers, and they won’t counter. And you’ll lose the property altogether.’”

But in a recession, as in boom times, the price that sellers get is what buyers are willing to pay — no matter how much the sellers paid for the property, how much they spent improving it, how much it’s appraised for or how much money the sellers need to move elsewhere, Parks said.

“I think one of the important things that a lot of us (Realtors) say is, ultimately, it’s the buyer that puts the value on the house, and if this is where the offers are coming in, that’s what your house is worth,” she said.

The recession, which officially began in late 2007 and ended in mid-2009, but continues to be felt on Main Streets throughout America, walloped the nation’s housing market.

In Washington County, as in most other areas, home sales and prices plummeted. By last year, the county’s median price had fallen to $138,000 — the lowest it has been since 2002, when it was at $126,450.

For better or worse

As the owner of Bachtell & Co., a Hagerstown accounting firm, Donovan Bachtell had more basis than most people to understand the economic conditions he and his wife faced when they listed their house in September 2008.

When they bought it about 10 years before, Bachtell remembers paying about $360,000.

At the time, “it was appraised for maybe $330,000, so we paid more,” he said. “But it didn’t matter” because they didn’t think they would move for a long time.

Plus, the house seemed well worth it, Bachtell said.

So when the couple decided to move to North Carolina for the warmer weather and to be closer to their grandsons, the house was one of the best in its neighborhood, Parks said.

“It had lots of upgrades. It was one of, I think, only two that had a basement in Arborgate. And it was just beautiful with all the granite and hardwood floors and stone,” she said.

“It had outdoor lighting and speakers, it had the (lawn) irrigation system. It had three bedrooms and an open loft area that had a built-in deck that went the whole way around. You had to see it to believe it. It was gorgeous.”

It was listed at $435,000 — a good price considering recent sales of comparable properties in the area, said Parks, who’s been a Realtor for 22 years.

“But when we originally listed this in 2008, things (in the economy) were starting to go askew and awry, and we didn’t realize the full extent of the crash,” she said.

Few did.

During the recession, expert observers here and across the nation kept predicting the worst was over. And then, conditions grew even worse.

Getting offers

After the Bachtells’ home was put on the market, six months passed and there were no offers, even after the price was reduced to $405,000.

In March 2009, when the couple’s son found someone willing to rent the house, they pulled it off the market. The rent created a revenue stream as the Bachtells moved to North Carolina, reopened the accounting firm there and, eventually, bought another house.

They might not have been as pressed for money as other families in such a situation, partly because the mortgage debt here was only “teeny tiny” by 2008, said Bachtell, 53.

As a result, the Bachtells didn’t try to sell the house again until early 2010, when another Realty agent asked to show it to a client, said Parks, who still was the Bachtells’ agent.

That showing led to the first offer to buy the house. The would-be buyers offered $340,000, but had to sell their own house first — and by one year later, it still hadn’t been sold, so the deal was scrapped, Parks said.

In early 2011, about the time the tenant moved out, the Bachtells listed the house again. This time, they were asking $345,000.

That fall, Parks said, “we received an offer for $270,000, but there was a contingency that they had to sell their house first. The sellers just rejected it. They had just gone through that. And it was too low.”

This past January, another offer came in. This one was for even less — just $250,000 — but because these buyers didn’t make their offer contingent on selling another house, the offer was negotiated up to $270,000 and accepted, Parks said.

Once again, there was a hitch. A home inspection turned up no problems, she said, but the would-be buyers decided they didn’t want the house.

In the next month, other offers came in, one as low as $250,000. By that time, Bachtell said, he was growing offended at the nerve of people in offering so little.

“The worst thing was, the Realtors would bring the offers. To me, that’s just as bad as people even thinking they can make the offer,” he said.

Bachtell said he was so insulted when the $250,000 offer came in that he told Parks to make a counter offer even higher than the $325,000 he’d been asking.

“I told Frannie to counter with $400,000 because (the other Realtor) was $75,000 less than we had it listed for, and I told Frannie to counter with $75,000 more than what we had it listed for,” Bachtell said, still sounding indignant.

Parks said she can’t remember now how she handled the situation.

“I do remember the seller’s stress and frustration level was at an all-time high. I did understand what they were going through,” she said.

Shortly afterward, other bids arrived and, eventually, the Bachtells accepted a $295,000 offer that had no contingency for selling another house.

The buyer’s Realtor wasn’t available for comment for this story. Through her assistant, the buyer’s daughter was contacted, but declined comment for this story.

‘Hoping for a miracle’

Parks said the Bachtells’ loss isn’t the largest she has seen in this recession.

How do you get the sellers to understand all of this, given the news is so hard?

“The sellers read the papers. They’re on the Internet, they know” how values have fallen, Parks said.

“Everybody thinks their house is special. And it is to them. And after awhile, it starts to sink in. This is reality. And if you can take a hit on your house and still be able to pay for it, then you’re one of the lucky ones,” she said.

As a Realtor, what’s been the toughest thing to see in this recession?

“I think the hardest part is that I’ve had to say over and over again, ‘I wish I had better news,’” Parks said.

“There’s people that I’m in touch with that want to move and they can’t. And they contact me periodically to see what the market’s doing, hoping for a miracle. But it’s just not happened yet.”

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