More Homesellers decide Time is Right

Richard and Adrienne Thomas had been thinking off and on since 2010 about selling their second home in Old Towne Orange. But their agent told them to hold off.

“Now’s not a good time,” he said.

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Scott and Brittany Thomas live in a 1936 craftsman bungalow in Orange that is owned by his parents, who plan to sell it at a time when the housing market has had a comeback.
Signs of a turnaround

How some Orange County home sales data have improved:

Inventory: 3,776 listings in the multiple listing service, up 18.6 percent from March 14.

Market time: 37 days to sell all listings at the current sales pace, down from 46 days a year earlier.

Median home price: $505,000 in March, up 26.3 percent from a year earlier.

Median price per square foot: $311, up from $271 a year earlier.

Sales: 3,063 in March, up 7.2 percent from a year earlier.

Foreclosures: 176 in March, down from 465 a year earlier.

Default notices: 524, down from 1,371 a year earlier.

But last year, the market shifted. Investors flooded in, and by late 2012 “for sale” listings fell through the floor and home prices headed up. By March, Orange County’s house prices jumped 17.2 percent, second only to Phoenix among big U.S. metro areas, according to real estate data firm CoreLogic.

Finally, the Thomas’ agent, broker Al Ricci, gave them the green light. On April 29 they put the house – which they had been renting out to their son and daughter-in-law – up for sale.

“Obviously, the market appears to be pretty hot,” Adrienne Thomas said. “If there was ever a time to make a move, it would be now.”

For-sale listings hit bottom in Orange County in January. Now, increasingly emboldened sellers are putting a toe into the water, responding to the lure of fast sales and higher prices.

Orange County had 3,776 homes for sale this past week, according to Steve Thomas of While that’s still a low number – the average over the past nine years was 10,200 listings – nearly 600 more homes are for sale than in mid-March, an 18 percent increase.

“Every time I look at it, it’s incrementally going up,” Thomas said of the listings totals in the local multiple listing service.

While listings typically pick up in the spring, this year’s increase is the biggest March-to-May jump in six years. Only two years – 2006 and 2007 – have seen bigger percentage increases in records dating back to 2005.

Several agents say they’ve noticed the uptick in recent weeks.

“People who thought about retiring last year are now selling this year because the market is allowing them to retire. Prices are up,” said First Team Real Estate agent Terry Matheus of Mission Viejo, noting that a lot of her new clients are moving to places like Colorado, Florida and the Inland Empire.

Orange County homeowners “can sell their house and pay almost cash for a home in a cheaper area,” Matheus said. “Or they can get out from under because prices have gone up, sell their home and go rent.”

And because of low interest rates, empty nesters can downsize to a smaller house, “cutting their payments in half.”

Jo-An Verstraete, also of First Team Real Estate, noted that “there’s still a tremendous shortage” of homes for sale, considering the booming demand among buyers. But increased values mean that a lot of people who owed more than their homes were worth are no longer “upside down.”

“They’re able to sell,” said Verstraete of Huntington Beach. “When they were upside down, they were stuck. They couldn’t refinance, they couldn’t sell. … I have seen homes that were short sales that now are regular sales.”

Jeff and Anne Underwood had been thinking seriously about selling their four-bedroom, two-story house in Rancho Santa Margarita since November to capitalize on rising demand and to move closer to their son and two grandsons in Grants Pass, Ore.

After living there for 23 years, they finally put the Orange County house up for sale on April 29 for $749,900. But their target market also is hot, they said.

“We’re trying to catch a sweet spot,” Anne Underwood, 63, said by cellphone while driving back from a house-hunting expedition to Oregon. “We’re trying to pick a time where we can get the most we can out of our house in Orange County and get a home in Grants Pass before the market gets out of hand there.”

The Thomases, who live in Laguna Beach, bought their cute little 1930s bungalow in Old Towne Orange in 2005 for $560,000 as a home for their son, Scott, who was attending Chapman Law School. They installed new wood floors, painted, and added custom closets and new kitchen appliances. Scott Thomas lived there while his parents rode out the market crash.

Now he’s an attorney, newly married and planning to buy a home of his own closer to his wife’s job. So his parents now have the two-bedroom Craftsman-style house on the market for $549,900.

“The market is coming back. That’s what made the decision for us,” Adrienne Thomas said. “I think everybody has a feeling that the market is on the upswing. If you’re looking to buy, it’s a good time. And if you’re looking to sell, it’s a good time as well.”

$ell SmArt… with Art!