Home sales are down, but some say Cherry Hill is still one of the best places to sell in Camden County

BY COLLEEN P. CLARK

With recent reports stating that promising signs have been seen in the national real estate market, many homeowners looking to sell may be wondering where exactly those signs are as each day of their contract passes without a buyer.

Most local Realtors agree that it could be due to one of two problems — the price and appearance.

Diane Streichert, CEO of the Burlington/Camden County Association of Realtors, stressed that appearance is key, stating that’s just one of the reasons why now is not the time to try and sell your home on your own. You need to take the advice of an experienced Realtor, she said.

For example, if a Realtor tells you to tear down your outdated wallpaper, do it. You can’t simply think that you can accept a lower offer if work needs to be done on your house. It could take much longer to get that offer than you would imagine, she said.

“You need an expert to help get you through this, who can give you really good advice, give you good marketing, and get the house sold,” she said.

Streichert also said it’s important not to read into national reports about the housing market. Our tri-county area cannot be compared to the nation, she said. Instead, she went over statistics to compare New Jersey with neighboring Pennsylvania and Delaware and said we are right on par.

“As far as our market, we’re on par with Pennsylvania and Delaware and that’s more important than what’s happening nationally,” she said. “It’s about what’s happening here.”

So far this year, 5,452 homes have sold in New Jersey compared to 7,043 last year. In Pennsylvania, 15,723 have sold so far this year, compared to 20,095 this time last year, she said.

Numbers are down, but that drop is also seen in Delaware at about the same percentage rate, she said.

“I think we’re comparable here in our market area,” Streichert said. “They’re down just like we are.”

On a more local level, there are currently 4,783 homes on the market in Camden County, according to Streichert’s statistics, and 4,646 in Burlington County.

“At this time last year, in Camden County there were 4,755 houses listed,” she said. “In Burlington County, there were 4,560. We’re kind of still the same.”

She added that the municipalities with the most sales in Camden County are Cherry Hill, Gloucester Township and Winslow Township. In Burlington County, it’s Mt. Laurel, Evesham and Medford. Those towns were among the top sellers last year as well.

The median sold price for the last two quarters in Camden County was $167,000, while it was $206,000 in Burlington County. Compare that to last year, when it was $176,000 and $213,500 respectively.

And when it comes to the median days on the market, this year to date it’s 79 in Camden County compared to 54 last year; and 84 in Burlington County compared to 66 last year, Streichert said.

So we may not be out of the woods, but we’re holding relatively steady with numbers up in some quarters and down in others, she pointed out.

“Looking at these statistics, I think we’re going to plod along,” Streichert said. “We’re really at the same place we were last year. We went up in the fall last year, so we have that chance again this year, but then in the fourth quarter it came back down.

“We’re not going to see what we saw before when everything just skyrocketed up (during the market’s peak),” she added. “That hasn’t been the pattern in real estate in the past. We’ve always had our ups and downs.”

Though many areas of the housing market are holding steady or seeing slight decreases compared to last year, Long & Foster of Cherry Hill just reported earlier this month that sales are up dramatically over this time last year.

“During the month of June, the Cherry Hill office sales units numbers were up 35 percent over June of 2010,” said Art Herling, regional vice president.

Long & Foster Realtor Andrea Pietrinferno, the manager of the Cherry Hill office, added that she thinks this is a terrific market with many opportunities for both buyers and sellers.

“Whether you are looking to buy a first home, move up to something bigger or start downsizing, looking for new construction, short sales or foreclosures, there is something for everyone,” she said.

Pietrinferno added that her agency has more than 1,700 active listings on average, of which approximately 500 are in Camden County. That represents about a 23.7 percent increase from this time last year.

According to her records, the average sales price stands at about $219,000, which is only 5 percent below last year’s amount. Also a slight difference, according to her statistics, is the amount of days on the market — 90, currently, which is just a slight increase from last year.

“The market is correcting itself, but buyers still have a tremendous opportunity with interest rates being at a historical low and affordability index at an all-time high,” Pietrinferno said. “When sellers price their house properly, we have seen multiple offer situations.”

So buyers are indeed out there. As for sellers, there isn’t much else to do besides, one, be patient, and two, listen to your Realtor, Streichert said.

“The most critical thing now is to make sure your house is ready for the market,” Streichert said. “So far, 1,587 houses have sold this year in Burlington County. We have more than a year’s worth of houses out there (to sell in both Burlington and Camden counties). The sellers have to make sure their houses are definitely in the best conditions they can be. The buyers, if they have this many houses to look at, they have a lot of choices. Listen to the Realtor and do the items that they ask you to do.”

Mark McKenna, of Pat McKenna Realtors, agreed, stating that if you’re frustrated because your house isn’t selling, there’s a 99.9 percent chance the problem is the asking price.

He said, despite the fact that a real turnaround in the real estate market is at least another year or two away, a home that basically looks good and is priced right should sell in a short period of time.

“It’s kind of a funny market because if a house is priced right and it looks good, it sells in two weeks,” McKenna, based in Marlton, said. “If it’s not priced right, it sits there for a good six months. Pricing is key out of the gate.”

When he says “out of the gate,” he means that sellers shouldn’t necessarily list their home for what they want to get and then sit on it patiently. It should be priced for what the homeowner needs — and what a buyer should realistically expect to pay.

McKenna added that an up-to-date appraisal is key to knowing what a house should be priced at.

In his area, McKenna is currently seeing average sale prices in the area of $320,000.

He said that a “normal” housing market doesn’t exist anymore, so it’s important not to look too far into a comparison of that amount to previous years. However, he did say that sale prices are currently “a hair lower than last year.”

There are currently about 638 homes — or 12 percent of the entire houses on the market in Burlington County — under contract, McKenna said. Again, he said the low number of inventory under contract is mostly due to appearance and price.

“In order to sell a house, people need to walk in your house and say, ‘This is a good buy,’” McKenna said. “If it’s not a good value, it will not sell.”

Something else that could help turn the housing market around is the fact that the rental market is currently through the roof. McKenna rented 17 properties in May. Compare that to the 37 properties he rented in all of 2010.

That trend will cause the market to shift because, soon enough, it’ll be more expensive to rent than it will be to buy a home, he said.

McKenna said it could be another year or two before we see a true turnaround in the market. Realtor Dave Lewis, of BT Edgar Realtors, said it all depends on the job market.

In the good old days of the American Dream, once you found a job, you were set for life. You could buy that house with the white picket fence, raise a family, and retire in the same home.

But in an economy where you can’t be tied down, Lewis agreed that you sometimes have to be able to pack up and go on a whim in order to follow the jobs.

That is just one of several reasons why so many houses are on the market right now. In Moorestown, where Lewis’ office is located, there are currently 288 homes listed. In the height of the real estate market, there were only 85 to 90 at one time.

According to his statistics, the average days on the market stand at about 115, with the lowest-priced homes — below $200,000 — selling the fastest to buyers like first-time homeowners.

Lewis also shared the same advice as McKenna, stressing that homes need to be priced at, or even below, market value. Appearance is also a deal maker or breaker.

“Since there are so many homes on the market, people pick the creampuffs,” he said. “Your home has to be in really good shape. If a room needs to be repainted, take care of that before you put your house on the market.”