The seller’s market can be tough on real estate agents, too

By Emily Hamann
The Bellingham Business Journal

It is a hard time try to buy a new house. There’s a shortage of new houses on the market, pushing prices up and causing stiff competition among would-be buyers.

In August, there were just 2.45 months of inventory on the market in Whatcom County, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. Months of supply is how many months it would take to sell the current inventory of homes given the current pace of home sales.

There’s been a nearly steady decline in inventory since the beginning of the year, while prices keep rising.

In August, the median price for a single-family home in the county was $325,000, up 14 percent from the same time last year.

In Bellingham it’s not uncommon for listings in desirable neighborhoods to get seven or eight offers, Sunny Lake, the principal managing broker at Coldwell Banker Bain said.

“It’s fast paced, and it’s a stressful environment for a lot of people,” she said. “Especially first-time homebuyers.

The competitive market can take a toll on buyers.

It can also take a toll on the real estate agents guiding them through the process.

The Bellingham office of Coldwell Banker Bain recently hired seven new agents, many of them are first-time real estate agents.

With homes moving so quickly, if agents put the work in they have the potential to make a lot of money in the current market. But it is tough, especially for new real estate agents, who tend to have more buyers and have a harder time getting listings.

“Most of them don’t have the connection with people who are selling,” Lake said. Those precious listings tend to go to the more experienced agents, who have been working longer to garner contacts and a reputation.

“If you look at the typical first clients with new agents, they are buyers,” she said.

In the current market, a real estate agent would want to get as many listings as possible, but it’s tough with so few homes going on the market.

“If you have a listing, that’s pretty much your golden ticket,” Lake said.

Diva Menke is one of the lucky ones.

She hasn’t closed a deal yet, but one of the other agents at Coldwell Banker Bain agreed to split a listing with her, which could close this month.

She has just been a real estate agent for three months.

“I’ve been waiting tables and bartending forever,” she said. “I wanted to have a similar interaction with people but more connection, over a longer time.”

She picked a stressful time to enter the real estate business.

“I’ve never had more anxiety in my life,” she said. “But I’m 100-percent glad I did it.”

Still, she says, she’d be glad to see the market even out.

“I think what hopefully will happen is that there will be more houses, more listings, the buyers will have a little more control,” she said.

Rebecca Vannoy is another relatively new agent with CB Bain – she’s been in the real estate business for more than a year.

“I’ve never really seen the low side,” she said. “It’s been emotional the whole time I’ve been in it.”

She experienced the frustrations with the seller’s market.

“I had one set of buyers where we probably looked at 50-70 homes,” she said. After not finding a place, those buyers had to rent a home.

What makes it especially hard, she said, is the people moving from Seattle to Bellingham, where the market is even more competitive, who are able to make cash offers.

There’s no way her clients can compete with that.

In the end, those buyers enlisted Vannoy to restart the search, and they found a home, but there were compromises. It wasn’t in the neighborhood they wanted. Coaxing her clients to accept something other than what they’ve envisioned has been key in this market.

“You kind of reinvent what that ideal home is in your head,” she said.

One upside seems to be that real estate agents are cooperating and communicating with each other better, Vannoy said.

With homes selling so quickly, Vannoy doesn’t want to introduce her clients to a new listing if it’s already sold.

She’s been in better contact with listing agents, making sure a home is still available before she shows it to clients.

‘It’s been really interesting communicating as Realtors,” she said. “We’ve learned to trust each other.”

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