Monday, September 04, 2006

Sellers look to sweeten the deal



SAN DIEGO - The hip Atria condos have a lot to offer young professionals and empty-nesters - a prime downtown address, skyline views, gym, rooftop deck and units starting at $300,000.
Developers are even offering free plasma TVs and $5,000 home renovation gift certificates to lure skittish buyers in what had been one of the nation's hottest real estate markets.
Condos are still selling well in the Snohomish County market. But with sales stalled by a spreading slowdown, incentives are on the rise in San Diego and other big cities that saw explosive condo construction during the boom.
But in real estate, as in dating, signs of desperation can be counterproductive. Many prospective buyers are shrugging off the enticements.
"We can wait a while and try to get the most for our money," said Andy Albert, an empty-nester who recently sold his home in a suburban beach community - after knocking 10 percent off the asking price.
Like many would-be buyers, Albert and his wife intend to rent an apartment near his downtown law office while they keep looking for the best possible deal.
San Diego County was at the forefront of the national housing boom that began five years ago. But in June, it became the first major California real estate market to see its annual median price for houses and condos slide since the run-up began.
The figure dropped 1 percent to $488,000, according to DataQuick Information Systems, a real estate tracking firm based in La Jolla. Meanwhile, sales dipped 24 percent caused in part by a sharp decline in demand for condos in the newly redeveloped downtown core.
"The only people who are buying right now are the people who really need to," said Peter Dennehy of the Sullivan Group Real Estate Advisors, a San Diego consulting firm.
"There are a lot of people waiting on the sidelines, because they're under the perception that they'll get a big deal if they hold off," he said.
Once high-flying condo markets around the nation have been bogged down by sagging demand and rising interest rates. Areas of California, Nevada and Arizona have been particularly hard hit, analysts said.
In Las Vegas, at least three major condo projects backed by high-wattage investors such as George Clooney, Michael Jordan and Ivana Trump have been put on hold. Developers have also deep-sixed major complexes in Philadelphia and Miami-Dade County in Florida.
To help jump-start sales, condo developers throughout the county are turning to financial incentives and street-side gimmicks.
One complex that bills itself as a resort-style community just north of downtown is advertising $35,000 discounts on units already tricked out with state-of-the-art, stainless steel appliances.
Developer Maisel Presley is selling condos online by dropping the price by $1,000 a day until a unit sells. A new development in upscale La Jolla is dangling zero money down programs to lure buyers.

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