What words come to mind when you think of this real estate market?
We’ve got some great things going on. Tremendous activity. Some areas are better than others, but no area is struggling. It’s healthy. There’s not too much activity to where we see what happened in 2006. Lenders are fair. People aren’t overleveraged. So it’s sustainable. It’s a market that has growth. It now has an element that maybe 2009 to 2011 didn’t have – new construction has come back into the fold.
Broadly speaking, what draws people to this market, and what are they looking for?
It’s three- or fourfold. We have a great education system – and by that I mean the public schools, the private schools and the universities in the Triangle, which are second to none. That just lends opportunity to folks. And the hospital piece – WakeMed, UNC and Duke. They are all-encompassing. They are nationally recognized. And then you can’t discount the fact that our economy – and major corporations here – draw people to this area. But it’s also lifestyle. I often talk to people and explain that what’s nice about being right here is we’re two-and-a-half hours from the coast and the mountains. The climate is just fabulous. You can be outdoors, essentially, 10 months out of 12. That’s pretty exceptional. It’s a moderate pace with a high quality of life. Family is, obviously, important to people. We have an infrastructure that accommodates traffic. You spend less time away from family because you can get from point A to point B. More and more people are able to work from home – live, work and play within a community – so they’re buying amenities within a community because they’re going to spend time there. They’re looking for single-family, detached homes more than anything. That’s the most prevalent.
If someone is moving to the area and they know they want to buy, where do they start?
The statistic says that 87% start their search online. So, as Realtors, we know that when an inquiry finally ends up on our desk, much of the homework has already been done. A great resource is to go through the Greater Chapel Hill Association of Realtors and/or the Chamber to seek out a qualified real estate professional. The consumer has the ability to be pretty educated when they get to us, which, quite frankly, has forced the real estate community to be better at what we do. That being said, I think that a large part of who you choose to be your real estate professional in your home search is going to be about trust and how you interact. Some of that is decided right there on the spot – first impressions are lasting impressions. Read a person’s bio and learn a bit about them. And ultimately, pick up the phone and call and find a little bit out about who you’re doing business with. Regardless of the technologies and the innovations, at the end of the day, real estate is still a people business.
What if a buyer really doesn’t know the difference between Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Pittsboro and beyond?
I would say to them, “Tell me what’s important to you.” A lot of times, through a series of questions, you can drill down and figure out what’s of the utmost importance. In some instances, it’s, “I don’t want to be in a community.” In some instances, it’s, “I need schools to be my focus.” In some instances, it’s, “restaurants are important.” The smart Realtor is asking questions and listening. Price point is a big part of it. And the affordability – so you look at tax rates, the age of the home, the upkeep.
How competitive is this market? How quickly are homes being snatched up?
The average days on market right now [September 2015] is 78. That’s in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. While we can give statistics, those numbers change. There are so many factors – global economies affect the market because of the consumer confidence factor. The important thing to emphasize? People should focus on being a better buyer or a better seller. Be qualified and ready to purchase. Get your financing in order. Make sure you have whatever documents you need to make an offer or to list a property. Better sellers think about upgrades on the home and doing an inspection. If you have your ducks in a row, then when the opportunity comes along, you’re not scrambling. At the end of the day, you want to be prepared.
What trends are you seeing among buyers?
I’m also a licensed general contractor and builder. I co-own Horizons Custom Builders. We’ll build about 18 houses this year. Probably the biggest change is that first-floor master bedrooms are of value. That’s a trend that’s very real for the consumer, whether they’re 30 years old or 80. Everything we’ve built since 2012 has had a first-floor master. People want a gourmet kitchen, stainless appliances, granite or quartz or Corian tops, high-end finishes, moldings. Everybody wants high end. Closet space and storage are important. So are playrooms or a bonus room of some sort. Flexible floor plans are key – so that one room could be converted to an office or a bedroom. At the end of the day, people are not willing to forego quality.
Say someone is getting off a plane from the West Coast, and they’re totally unfamiliar with the area. What are the biggest surprises?
First, it’s about getting acclimated to the geography of the area. People see a map of the area, but they don’t fully understand time and distance. And then it’s understanding schools. We have such a broad range and different mindsets. The Wake County system is so much bigger, so the dynamics are different than the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. And then there’s a need to explain that we also have Chatham County Schools and Orange County Schools. Then it comes down to a costs-benefits equation. “Am I willing to pay this for this?” They weigh the costs-benefits of being in a certain area. We run the numbers.
Any predictions for 2016?
Much of the same. We’re in a very stable market. New construction will continue to move forward. Chapel Hill proper is changing in terms of its product – a number of different projects are about to be underway or already are in progress. I see a lot of promise for our entire area. More and more people are finding North Carolina to be a place they want to call home, for all the reasons already mentioned. On all fronts, this is a great place to live. So there will continue to be an influx of people, which will stress our infrastructure and our inventory levels. But at the end of the day, we have some really bright people in key positions who can make a difference. We’ll address all of those challenges as we move forward.