Baker real estate bucks market trends

Written by LISA BRITTON For the Baker City Herald January 11, 2012 05:28 pm

Local Realtors, from left, Marty Lien, Sharon Rudi and Mary Jo Grove inspect a Baker City home that’s for sale. Agents say Baker County avoided the dramatic fluctuations that have roiled the real estate markets in other parts of Oregon and the U.S.
Local Realtors, from left, Marty Lien, Sharon Rudi and Mary Jo Grove inspect a Baker City home that’s for sale. Agents say Baker County avoided the dramatic fluctuations that have roiled the real estate markets in other parts of Oregon and the U.S.
By LISA BRITTON
For the Baker City Herald

Housing market woes across the country just can’t be compared to Baker City.

“Our market is so unique and nonstandard,” said Andrew Bryan, who bought Baker City Realty in 2008.

Nationally, real estate troubles hit in 2008.

“We had about a year lag time,” Bryan said.

And now, three years later, local Realtors are optimistic.

“We still have people looking, we still have people buying,” said Marty Lien, a Realtor since 1989 who works for John J. Howard & Associates.

“It’s fluctuated up and down over the years,” she said. “I always have a positive attitude about the market.”

(Notice the capital “R” in Realtor? That means the person belongs to the National Association of Realtors and abides by a set code of ethics and standards of practice.)

Numbers, provided by the Regional Multiple Listing Services (RMLS), tell the story.

At the end of November 2010, the number of closed sales in Baker County was 123.

For November 2011, that number was 122.

Remember 2008?

The RMLS recorded 215 closed sales at the end of December 2007, and then that dropped to 146 by December 2008.

It hasn’t changed much since.

But the terms “foreclosure” and “short sale” come up often in local MLS meetings. (A short sale happens when a homeowner owes more than the house is worth and needs to sell quickly.)

“We probably get five requests a week,” Mary Jo Grove said of foreclosures.

(The “we” she talks about is The Grove Team of Mary Jo, Jim Grove and Carla Smith with Nelson Real Estate.)

Grove estimates foreclosures are about 20 percent of the local market right now, maybe a bit less.

The total inventory — the number of “for sale” signs you see around town — has stayed fairly stable.

“We always have a lot of houses for sale,” said Grove, who’s been a Realtor since 1980.

Of course, these numbers vary by subcategory.

“The farm and ranch market has not seen  much movement for three years,” Bryan said. “The under-$100,000 market keeps moving along.”

Which, he said, makes it possible for families to move from renting to owning, or to a larger home.

“It’s a great time to go from a two-bedroom to a three-bedroom,” Bryan said.

Although house values have decreased in recent years, Grove said Baker wasn’t hit as hard as Boise and Bend where values dropped about 50 percent.

“Compared to that, it’s just not that bad,” she said. “Our prices never go crazy-high and never go crazy-low. What we have going for a buyer is prices are down and interest rates are cheap.”

Rates are below 4 percent.

Grove remembers when a 14 percent variable interest rate was standard.

“It’s mind-boggling how really good interest rates truly are,” she said.

But getting financed is a bit tougher these days.

“It used to be you could make an offer, then get financed,” Bryan said. “Now you have to get pre-approved, all set, good-to-go before you put an offer in.”

But if you want to buy, now is the time.

“I think it is a great time to buy,” Grove said. “And if people need to sell, if it’s priced competitively, it’ll sell.”

As for potential buyers, Bryan said he’s seen three main groups moving to town: former military, lower-income individuals on Social Security and artists.

“Those are the calls I’m fielding the most consistently,” he said.