COVER STORY - Hartford Courant, Real Estate Section

Why Has A Home Been On The Market A Long, Long Time? The Price

By ROBIN STANSBURY | Hartford Courant | March 29, 2009                  

It's taking longer for homes to sell in the Greater Hartford area, an average of more than two months. But some homes seem to sit - and sit and sit and sit - on the market much longer than others.

Like the historic home on North Main Street in Suffield that has been listed for sale for nearly 1,100 days, or the house on Avalon Drive in Middletown that has been for sale for more than 1,300 days, according to the Multiple Listing Service.

In both cases, that's more than three years. Yes, three years.

With no obvious flaws, agents say the most likely reason these homes and others linger comes down to one factor: price.

Local real estate agents insist that even in this economic downturn, homes are selling - sometimes within just a week or two of being listed, and occasionally with multiple offers - if they are in good condition and, most importantly, priced right.

"Any house that is on the market that long and hasn't sold, it is the price," said Susie Hatch, an agent with William Raveis Real Estate in West Hartford. "I don't care what town it is in, I don't care where it's located. I don't care if it is in Las Vegas, where there are literally thousands of houses on the market. It is price. If it is the right price, someone will buy it. Always."

But determining that magic asking price - not too high to detract buyers, not too low so sellers feel like they are giving it away- is especially difficult in this market, when fewer houses are selling. Without comparable home sales nearby - homes with similar size, style and condition - it is sometimes difficult to pinpoint the ideal asking price.

"It's much harder in this type of a market. If a home has a negative about it, no matter what it may be, you're not sure how buyers are going to react to that negative," said Charlie Kaylor, owner/broker of RE/MAX Communities, based in Simsbury.

"Say you have a slightly awkward floor plan. How much of an adjustment do you make for that?" he said. "Pricing is just more difficult now and buyers are pickier. A few years ago, you used to look down the street at the neighbor's house that sold, add $10,000 and that's what you'd get. That's not how it is working right now."

But even steep price reductions sometimes aren't the answer.

A home in Westbrook, for instance, has been listed for sale for more than 1,100 days, first with an asking price of $999,000. The four-bedroom home, which is part of a private beach association, is now listed for sale for $695,000 and a buyer has yet to be found.

Location doesn't seem to be a problem in that case, but sometimes a bad location can stop a home from selling. Busy streets and sloping yards can derail a deal.

"Location definitely makes a difference," Hatch said, "but in this market it still comes back to price."

She said a home in West Hartford recently sold despite its bad location - the backyard backed up to Interstate 84 - and in horrible condition.

"Without a doubt, it was about the worst condition I've ever seen in a house," she said. "It was a foreclosure and the people walked out the door. There were open food containers in the kitchen. Clothes and shoes all over the floor. But it came on the market at $106,000, and they had 12 offers because you can't find anything in West Hartford at that price. People said, 'I can deal with the condition for that price.'"

Local agents said certain styles of homes, such as an historic home, and homes priced higher than $1 million naturally can take longer to sell because the pool of potential buyers is smaller than in the mainstream marketplace. In those cases, the agents said, sellers need more patience.

According to the Greater Hartford Association of Realtors, single-family homes in the region took an average of 67 days to sell in 2008, an 8 percent increase from 2007. In February 2009, the average days on market was 81, about 4 percent higher than in February a year ago.

So what's the best plan for sellers heading into the spring market?

Rob Giuffria, a broker with Prudential Premier Homes who specializes in high-end homes in Greater Hartford, said all homeowners need to take a hard look at their homes, identify any flaws and make price adjustments for things that can't be fixed.

"When a home hasn't sold, what I tell sellers is there is almost always a limiting factor impeding the home's ability to sell," Giuffria said. "There is always one factor that will stick out in a buyer's mind the most: a bad location because it's on a busy street, no bathtub on the second floor, no eat-in area off the kitchen.

"As a seller, you have to understand the factor that will most adversely affect the sale of your home," he said. "Once you figure out what that factor is, adjust your price to address it."

Giuffria said he recently sold a four-bedroom, three-bathroom home in West Hartford with a new kitchen and hardwood floors for $364,000. The price suffered, he said, because it was by far the most expensive home on the street. "In another neighborhood, that home was worth $400,000," he said, "but not in the neighborhood where it was located."