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Business Watch:

Realtors put in more work

With a larger number of unsold homes on the market, selling a home requires longer hours for the same return.

October 22, 2007|By Michael Miller

Valerie Torelli is selling about as many homes right now as she did a year ago. It just takes a little longer to close the deal.

Torelli, who owns Torelli Realty in Costa Mesa, is one of many Realtors in Orange County facing a rough time in the housing market. Across the county, home sales in September were down 43.7% from the same month a year ago, and Costa Mesa saw an almost identical drop. Torelli, however, said her own firm has managed to keep up its pace from last year — although with a larger number of unsold homes on the market, there’s more work involved.

“I just have to work longer hours to get the same thing accomplished,” she said. “You have to go through a lot more showings. You can’t just show one or two houses. You have to show a dozen to two dozen at a time.”

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In more ways than one, 2007 has been a rocky year for the Orange County housing market. Banks have enacted a record number of foreclosures statewide while mortgage brokers have laid off employees, and both home sales and median prices are down from the same time a year ago. Costa Mesa and Newport Beach also saw September sales fall from the numbers in July and August, though that drop may be explained by the fact that families with school-age children tend to buy more during vacation months.

In Costa Mesa, at least, that translates to more “for sale” signs down the block and fewer people visiting the houses. Torelli, however, said that may not entirely be a bad thing. Part of the reason for the high number of foreclosures, she said, was the fact that many people had purchased homes they couldn’t pay off, and her customers this year were quicker to offer a down payment.

“A year ago, you had more of the people who never should have been looking,” she said. “They were buying above their means, and they were allowed to because of the mortgages we had available. Now, people are putting 10% and 20% down.”

The picture in Newport Beach is somewhat different, as home prices went up in most neighborhoods even as sales increased only fitfully from last year. Carrie Allen, president of the Newport Beach Assn. of Realtors, said houses in affluent neighborhoods were selling as well as ever, and much of the fear regarding home-buying was due to negative media reports.

“The buyers out there, because they keep reading all these negative headlines and reports, are really skeptical,” she said. “They’re wanting to buy but the more they read, they think, ‘We’ll, wait until next month.’

“I’m working with probably five buyers right now. My attitude toward them is, if you really love a house, make an offer.”


MICHAEL MILLER may be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at michael.miller@latimes.com.

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