Sue Wolverton has been in residential real estate for 35 years. The bulk of her career has been with Coldwell Banker, first in Atlanta and later in Miami-Dade and Fort Lauderdale Beach, where she was a regional manager. Wolverton relocated to the Sarasota-Manatee market in 1990. She currently oversees 23 Coldwell Banker offices on the Gulf Coast, from Manatee County through Marco Island.
Q: How did Coldwell Banker do in 2011?
A: We were up about 30% and then we hit a 60-day craziness when the stock market started being challenged in August, particularly in the Sarasota market. We are vastly affected by the stock market for the luxury second home marketplace. But it picked up. Now we are very busy. We also had a huge group of agents who came to us from Century 21 Advantage and from Prudential in Sarasota.
Q: What is the most pressing challenge going into 2012 for residential real estate?
A: Short sales. Everybody has a wait-and-see attitude about what is going to happen with shadow inventory (foreclosures and other unsold properties that could flood the market.) You hear it everywhere. You can drive through subdivisions and you can see the issues. We've heard rumors for two years now that it's going to hit us, that it's going to happen. We are starting to see some finalized foreclosures coming into in Charlotte County. (But) short sales seem to be the thrust of the market. There's a lot of pending short sales.
Because of all that, we started our own title company in the short sale division. But we are still at a wait-and-see attitude, and because of that we have buyers on the fence that you have to work with. You have to handhold because of the lengthy process.
Q: Is the gap between asking prices and closing prices still a challenge?
A: Sellers perceive they can hold out for a higher price because there is a lot of press about reduced inventory. Negotiations have been harder this year.
But the actuality of it is that our average sales price has increased about 4% across the board. There are some upper end homes moving, which brings the average sales price up, but a lot of our sales have been under $300,000. The inventory we've had on the market for a long period of time is still sitting and the inventory that is coming on the market is selling. People who are motivated and are priced accordingly are getting their home sold.
Q: The rental market is a trend many residential real estate firms are following. How will Coldwell Banker approach the trend in 2012?
A: I think it's going to be massive. Last year we centralized property management. That's going to be a huge focus for us, with the number of people who have been foreclosed on. And a lot of young people are moving into our market, and some of them tend to rent before they buy. We carry about 1,400 seasonal and annual rentals in my region alone, and all of the annuals in my region are booked. We have property managers in most of our offices. They assist the agents who have properties that didn't sell or work with investors who are holding. We see a lot of investors going into some marketplaces and buying, fixing and holding for a period of time.