Every week, we ask an Atlanta real estate professional for their thoughts on the top trends in Atlanta real estate.
This week, we talked with Julie Martin, a Realtor with Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International Realty in the North Atlanta suburbs. Originally from North Carolina, Julie experienced multiple relocations while working for Nabisco and Kraft Foods, along with homeownership in the Carolinas, Tennessee, New Jersey, Illinois, Oregon and California. Her travels presented her a with a unique opportunity to develop a well-rounded knowledge of real estate and a genuine appreciation of being a homeowner. She and her family are active members of Birmingham United Methodist Church, as well as White Columns and Atlanta National Country Club members and the Manor Golf & Country Club.
Atlanta Agent (AA): Rents are rising even faster than home prices; do you find that, among your clients, that the cost of renting has driven consumers to consider buying?
Julie Martin (JM): For my particular market, rentals have disappeared. We don’t have that many apartments out here, and instead see home rentals. On either side – whether sellers listing their home for rent or people looking to rent – it’s pretty much gone, so for instance, people will come to the market thinking they can rent while building a new house, and it’s simply not possible. That market came about immediately following the downturn, when there was a glut of houses and homeowners opted to rent their homes instead of taking huge losses; but again, that’s no longer the case.
Also, interest rates are so low today that not many people are considering renting, because after all, it’s cheaper right now to buy than rent, especially here in Atlanta. Also, when there is so little competition for home rentals in an area, your client is essentially getting hosed. There are no appraisals, no safeguard on how much people can charge. So, you’ll have people who are so desperate for somewhere to live that they’ll pay it. Even corporate housing is in short supply right now.
AA: We often hear about how we’re in a “seller’s market.” What are some interesting things you’ve observed in your seller clients, lately?
JM: There’s definitely been a shift from buyers to sellers, but I’d say it’s more of a level playing field, rather than being completely a seller’s market. Inventory is so low – we’re probably down 40 percent from our normal rate, and it’s been that way since last year – and I do see sellers digging in their heels on their sales prices, which is refreshing to hear. After all, another offer will certainly come along. I’m curious to see where we end up, though. Things are hitting the market at such a rapid rate (my e-mail is full all the time with new listings), I’m not sure if sellers will remain in a strong position.
Thankfully, the strong position is not making any of my sellers cocky just yet. They’re still a little skittish, after being beat up for so long. Nowadays, they sweat after their home is listed for more than 30 days, whereas their homes were previously on the market for 90 or 100 days. So we’re standing up a bit straighter, but we’re not cocky.
AA: Finally, client retention is invaluable in real estate. What measures do you take to retain your clients after the final contracts have been signed?
JM: That is one of my favorite things to do. I have really been blessed with some fantastic clients who are lovely people I love to keep in touch with. If they’re local, I will stop by and visit, send them things in the mail and communicate via texts and e-mails, in addition to social media. My clientele is so heavily relocation clients that they often move away, so I’ll pop pumpkin bread in the mail around Thanksgiving, for instance, to keep in touch.
As your database gets bigger, you have to be more sophisticated in how you keep in touch with clients, so I have lists set up that make sure I don’t mess things up, as well as an assistant who keeps things in order. All your referrals come through your client base, and I work almost completely on referral. So if you’re not working on your referrals, you’re going to be in trouble.