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Oceanfront Real Estate.  Marina Del Rey Peninsula. 

Overpriced ‘setup’ houses are used to sell other nearby homes

Real estate agents are using overpriced properties as negative examples to sell similar homes with lower asking prices.

By Kenneth R. Harney
June 17, 2012
WASHINGTON — In the real estate brokerage field they’re often known as “setups” or “pinball” homes, and this spring’s improving conditions in some markets could be stimulating more of them.

A setup or pinball property is a house listed with an unrealistically high asking price that pulls in lots of visits by agents and shoppers, but no offers. The problem is this: Real estate agents, including even the listing agent, are using the overpriced house as a negative example to sell similar homes in the area that carry lower asking prices.

“It’s like a pinball machine,” said Debbie Cook, an agent with Long & Foster Real Estate in Silver Spring, Md. The “setup” is the foil — the house that agents show clients to make other, more realistically priced listings look better. Maybe the sellers — encouraged by reports of rising sales and low mortgage rates — insisted on the aggressive asking price and wouldn’t list for anything less. Or maybe the sellers’ agent, not wanting to lose the listing, didn’t fully brief them about what the house could command in today’s conditions.

Whatever the specifics, such houses tend to see heavy foot traffic but go nowhere until the sellers drop the asking prices, usually by significant amounts. Before then, however, they may be used without the sellers’ knowledge to market other houses. Since no one seriously expects them to sell at their original asking price, agents are happy to exploit the overpricing to facilitate other sales.

“We’re definitely seeing it,” said Sandy Nichols Acevedo, an agent at Prudential California Realty in Oxnard. “Some people think they can go higher now because the market seems to be doing better.”

Joe Manausa, owner-broker at Century 21 First Realty inTallahassee, Fla., who wrote about the phenomenon on Active Rain, a Seattle-based industry blog with more than 220,000 members, offers this hypothetical example: “If two very similar homes are near each other, with one priced at $250,000, and the other at $280,000, the higher-priced home is often shown first. Then the real estate agent says, ‘If you like this home at $280,000, you are going to love the home down the street at $250,000!’”

Bill Gillhespy, an agent in Fort Myers Beach, Fla., has a real-life example: He has a listing on the 14th floor of a luxury condominium project overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The asking price is $450,000. There’s a unit on the same floor with similar views, similar square footage and layout, but with a more updated decor, that is listed for nearly $150,000 more. When Gillhespy is asked by another agent or a prospective buyer to see his unit, he often says, “Let me first show you a unit just down the hall. It’s one of the nicest in the entire building.” The higher-priced model shows well, but shoppers immediately remark on the $150,000 difference “and they can’t see how it’s justified.”

Perrin Cornell, a broker at Century 21 Exclusively in Wenatchee, Wash., says some sellers in the mid-to-upper price brackets in his area “are exuberant” that we’re finally out of the recession and are tempted to disregard agents’ more sobering recommendations on pricing.

What happens to such listings? “Unless we’re using it for a setup,” Cornell said, “we stop showing it” until the seller agrees to lower the price to a sensible number.

But as a matter of principle and ethics, should realty agents accept listings from homeowners who refuse to listen to reason? Manausa is adamant that they should not.

“If you list a property at a price you know will not sell,” he said, “you are misleading the seller. Effectively you are saying, ‘I don’t think it will sell, but I’ll put my name on anything hoping to get paid.”

Acevedo agrees that agents have a fiduciary duty to educate even the most headstrong owners about sobering market realities, but has a compromise solution: Take the listing but require the seller to sign a contractual agreement requiring an automatic price reduction to a specified level if the house doesn’t sell in the first two to three weeks.

Bottom line here for owners thinking about selling in modestly improving markets: Get as much information as you can about sale prices of comparable houses in your area. Talk to multiple realty agents before listing. Sure, you can try pushing a little on price, but if you go overboard, you risk becoming the unwitting setup, the pinball, the out-of-touch competition everybody else loves to visit.

Article written by Kenneth R. Harney
kenharney@earthlink.net

(Source: youtube.com)

[Image via Credit Sesame]

[Image via Credit Sesame]

// Short Sale vs. Foreclosure//

Q: What is the difference between a short sale and a foreclosure?

A: A short sale involves the sale of an “under water” property, whereby the proceeds of the home sale will be LESS than the total mortgage balance and the owner cannot afford to pay the balance of the debts against the property. Purchasing such a property requires that the bank agree to accept less than the amount owed on the property, releasing the lien on the property. According to realtor.org, “ A short sale is a sales transaction in which the seller’s mortgage lender agrees to accept a payoff of less than the balance due on the loan”

Houselogic.com explains foreclosure as “The process whereby a lender, such as a bank, seeks to repossess a property where the owner has failed to comply with the terms of the mortgage or promissory note, such as not making a payment. Once the property has been foreclosed, the bank can then sell the house, using the money to pay its costs.”

AOL Real Estate offers an explanation to help distinguish one from the other, in that,  ”Short sales can also be referred to as ‘pre-foreclosure sales’ which, as the name implies, precedes the home being officially repossessed or foreclosed on by the lender. That is, the property is sold much earlier than the months it typically takes to reach foreclosure, allowing all parties to move on from the transaction sooner.”

// OK to Flip that House, says FHA//

CNN is reporting that the Federal Housing Administration has some good news for real estate flippers–the investors who buy homes on the cheap so that they can quickly resell in order to turn a profit.

The news report said this of FHA: “In an effort to help stabilize housing prices and unload some of the foreclosures that are flooding low-income communities, the mortgage insurer extended a waiver of its anti-flipping regulations through 2012.”

The waiver, which was issued in 2010 and expired at the end of December, suspended regulations that prohibited the agency from insuring mortgages used for purchasing homes that are bought and resold in less than 90 days.

Acting FHA Commissioner Carol Galante explained: ”This extension is intended to accelerate the resale of foreclosed properties in neighborhoods struggling to overcome the possible effects of abandonment and blight.”

The ban was first initiated as a preventative measure against predatory flipping, in which homes when homes are quickly resold at inflated prices to unsuspecting buyers. However, the extension of this waiver through 2012 may offer help to many low-income communities that continue to struggle.

Foreclosures have been especially problematic in many low-income neighborhoods, causing declining property values and surges in crime and other “social ills.” In such neighborhoods, “Real estate flippers often rehab these damaged homes before reselling them, improving conditions for neighborhoods.” FHA mortgage insurance plays a crucial role for many low-income communities. In fact, many of the loans in these communities could not be issued without FHA backing.

CNN reports that in order to qualify for the waiver, certain conditions must be met:

  • The transaction must be “arms length” with no other relationship between seller and buyer.
  • If the new sale price is 20% or more above the previous selling price, the lender has to document and justify the increase and meet other conditions, such as making sure the home has been inspected.

The report states that, “Since the waiver went into effect in February of 2010, the FHA has insured more than 42,000 loans to purchase homes that were being resold within 90 days. These totaled more than $7 billion in mortgage principal.”

Read CNN’s report in full here.

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