At 10 a.m. yesterday, Bob and Lorene Hetherington parked their car on a quiet Dublin street, grabbed a handful of fliers and started their rounds. Their mission: to persuade someone - anyone - to sell their house.
At 10 a.m. yesterday, Bob and Lorene Hetherington parked their car on a quiet Dublin street, grabbed a handful of fliers and started their rounds.
Their mission: to persuade someone - anyone - to sell their house.
"We have this discussion every Monday morning," said Lorene Hetherington, a real-estate agent with Keller Williams Consultants Realty. "Our team gathers and says, 'Who do we think we can get to move?' "
With home sales up but home listings at their lowest level since 2002, real-estate agents are working overtime to sign people up. They're knocking on doors, distributing literature, placing phone calls and sending letters to convince owners that now is a good time to sell.
"We've got to spread the positive word," said Chris Pedon, president of the Columbus Board of Realtors.
Slightly more than 9,000 central Ohio homes are for sale right now - a number that would last 4.7 months at the current sales pace if no new homes were to go on the market. (A six-month supply is traditionally considered balanced between buyers and sellers.)
In some parts of central Ohio, the inventory of homes is far lower.
Worthington has a 1.8-month supply; Upper Arlington, 2.2 months; the Beechwold/Clintonville area, 2.7 months; Grandview Heights, 2.3 months; and Powell, 2.6 months.
To find sellers in Upper Arlington, Dan Krumm bypasses technology and resorts to an old-fashioned approach: knocking on doors.
Although he has employed the strategy for years to keep his name in front of potential clients, he recently ramped up his efforts in response to the shortage of homes on the market.
"I was doing it about two hours a day," said the Howard Hanna agent. "Now, I do it about three hours a day.
"I knock on the door, introduce myself and ask: 'When are you thinking of moving?'?"
In addition to distributing fliers, the Hetheringtons stay in close contact with other agents and try "data mining" - contacting former clients who've been in their homes at least several years who might be ready for a transition.
"We go back to people I put into homes 10 years ago and ask, 'Are you ready to move up, down or out of town?'?" Lorene Hetherington said.
Clay McGowen, a Coldwell Banker King Thompson agent, recently distributed fliers in the Clintonville neighborhood that read: "There is a shortage of homes available in your area; we need sellers prepared to sell and move."
"Everybody is aggressively seeking these listings," McGowen said, "because, let's face it, agents know that instead of waiting 120 days or 180 days to get paid, if you get a good listing, it's going into contract in 30 days."
McGowen said his last three listings sold within 11 days, a dramatic reflection of the lean supply. He sold one home in Clintonville in six days after an open house that produced a line of 40 people.
The low inventory has several explanations.
One is the sharp rise in sales, which quickly pulls homes off the market.
Compounding that is a big drop in owners listing their homes. In the first two months of this year, 5,473 central Ohioans put up a for-sale sign, compared with the 8,195 homes that went on the market during the same period in 2006.
Listings dipped in 2007 and have continued to fall.
As lending standards tightened along with employment, homeowners looking to move up struggled to secure a loan. In addition, as prices fell, some owners couldn't get the price they wanted or needed for their home.
Although prices have recovered some, they still aren't to the level of seven years ago. More than 20 percent of central Ohioans still owe more on their home than the home is worth, making sales difficult.
Finally, some folks simply remain skittish about selling after watching the housing horror show of the past few years.
"There's probably some skepticism in terms of where we've been in the market," Pedon said.
To persuade cautious sellers, agents tell them that sales are up and that interest rates might never be lower.
Some buyers, meanwhile, are taking matters into their own hands.
When Anne DeVoe's clients were unable to find a home for sale that they liked in Olde Worthington, they drove through the area, jotting down addresses of homes that caught their eye.
They told DeVoe to send letters to the homeowners asking the homeowners whether they'd be interested in selling.
Surprisingly, they heard back from two owners and ended up in contract with one.
DeVoe doesn't ordinarily find a house through blind letters, she said, but these aren't ordinary times.
"The inventory is extremely low right now, especially in older parts of Columbus like Clintonville or Arlington or Worthington," said the Coldwell Banker King Thompson agent. "I keep hoping there will be more listings out there so we'll have more choices for our clients."
Brian Kemp, a Keller Williams Realty agent, represented the sellers in the Olde Worthington transaction. His clients, who were planning to sell come summertime, weren't shocked to get the overture, he said.
"It was the second letter like that they had gotten in six months."