Realty's new reality

Bunny, bunny, bunny...

I am in a conference room at the Hillcrest Keller Williams office among roughly 75 realtors that are pretending to be bunny rabbits. A middle-aged woman places her hands in front of her face, simulating buck teeth. She shouts, "Bunny, bunny, bunny!"

A woman in a pink-and-black-striped sweater lifts her lanky arms above her head, giving them the appearance of floppy ears. She hops in place before yelling, “Bunny, bunny, bunny!”

A man with a microphone hushes the bunnies.

“Very good,” he says enthusiastically. The room applauds.

“That was about lowering your inhibitions,” he continues. “Moving out of that fear of this will make me look stupid is really valuable in real estate. This next game pushes that teamwork thing even further.”

He instructs the agents to break into groups of 12. One person will pretend to be a tree; two are to imagine they are something related.

“I’m the tree,” says a man in a three-piece suit. He stretches his arms, making them branch-like.

“I’m a Christmas present!” a petite woman says, rolling herself into a ball at his feet.

“I’m a little girl opening that Christmas present,” says a blonde in a tight blazer. She bends down and pretends to unwrap the woman.

A spiky-gray-haired agent to my left says with a cynical sigh, “And what exactly does this have to do with real estate?” She looks exasperated.

A nearby realtor raises a judgmental eyebrow.

Five minutes later, the announcer again hushes the room. The realtors fill the available seats. Some must stand at the back of the room.

“That game is a great example of what real estate is really about,” says the announcer. “We have no idea what’s going to happen next.”

He hands the mic to the office’s team leader, Ashley Lunn, a robust woman wearing the company colors, red and black. She passes out two printouts. One has real-estate stats, the other lists local information compiled from the 2010 United States Census.

“What’s the population of San Diego County?” Lunn asks. She pauses while the agents shout out their best hunches.

“Three-point-one-four million,” she says. “That number grows by 40 to 45 thousand per year. Right now, we have less than a month of inventory. We have only about 1000 properties under $350,000. I think our office has 500 buyers right now. Just our office! And there are, what, 400 different brokerages in San Diego and 12,000 realtors?”

Lunn holds up the census-data printout.

“The thing we can’t talk about with our clients is race, ethnicity, and languages spoken. We are a pretty white-bread office. I think most of us forget that we’re in a bilingual city. If you don’t speak Spanish, you sure as hell better get a friend that does. The number of Spanish-speakers in our county represents a huge opportunity. They are usually very much underserved. “

Lunn lists more stats:

“Fifty-nine percent of people in San Diego own homes, while the national average is 65 percent.”

“Eighty-point-seven percent of our sales in the last 60 days were properties under $600,000.”

“We have five times more buyers than inventory.”

Before wrapping up her presentation, Lunn looks out over the gathered crowd. “This next year, 2013, is going to feel crazy. I would rest now, because there’ll be no rest next year. We’re going to have more opportunity than we’ve seen in a long time.”

The room erupts with applause.

This isn’t North Carolina

Thirty-nine-year-old Heather Goodmanson attends Keller Williams team meetings weekly. Goodmanson has been an agent for 20 months. In 2011, she sold seven homes; in 2012, she closed twelve. She was awarded 2012’s “Rookie of the Year” by her brokerage.

“No one is even remotely close to me [in sales],” Goodmanson says.

In those 20 months, Heather has forked over 30 percent of her commission to Keller Williams.

“The education at Keller Williams is keeping me above the curve,” she says.

We are sitting at a glass table in her 2000-square-foot, four-bedroom, three-bath Clairemont home. Goodmanson wears a black dress paired with a tiger-print belt and five-inch stilettoes. She pushes a strand of perfectly curled blond hair behind one ear.

“What is happening in San Diego right now is unique. We’re in a season we’ve never seen before. We have an issue with low inventory. For a normal, even-keel market, we need about six months of inventory. Right now, we have about three weeks of inventory. It’s definitely leaning toward being more favorable for sellers, because you have a ton of buyers. We still have low prices, but they’re inching up. We’ve seen that pattern for about 12 months now. They’re going up at a rate of 4 to 8 percent [annually]. It’s not like this 20 percent increase, like it used to be back in the heyday.”

One of the biggest challenges Goodmanson faces is the difference between a house’s appraised value and what people are willing to pay.

“Appraisers are looking at what happened in the market, while realtors are thinking ahead. I’m currently dealing with an escrow nightmare.” Goodmanson sighs. “I’m on the second property with the same clients that’s fallen apart in escrow because of the appraisal. My clients spent $1800 out of their own pockets on the first property they placed a bid on. On this [second] one, the lender had the docs in hand, ready to go, but wouldn’t sign off on it until the appraisal came in. The buyers offered $595,000 on [the property], but the appraisal came in at $535,000. Meanwhile, my clients need to come up with $60,000 out-of-pocket if they want this home now. They’re going to have another property fall through their fingers.

“Sellers now receive 99.9 percent of their asking price. A year and a half ago, they were getting 92 percent. If a seller is asking $600,000, that’s what it will sell for. You don’t come in and have uneducated clients who say, ‘I want to offer $580,000.’ My parents in North Carolina said I should argue and debate, to get the lowest price I can get. But, guess what? This isn’t North Carolina. We aren’t talking about Kentucky. This is San Diego. That’s a snapshot of our market, right here, right now. You won’t get into a home by bidding under the listing price.”

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um, where's the story? Your website is not serving up the story.

The story? You expect a story? Don't you see the story in the photo? I don't either. Maybe we are just old fogies with no sense of humor and/or pop culture.

For those whose interest is aroused, the print edition of the San Diego Reader is a good place to find the story.

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