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Originally published November 22, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 18, 2009 at 12:40 PM

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Slow housing market means more hours, more expenses for agents

The slowdown in the Seattle-area real-estate market means brokers and agents are putting in longer hours with clients, spending more money on marketing tools, and working with sellers to achieve the perfect price and presentation to keep homes from languishing on the market.

Special to The Seattle Times

Real-estate agent Jonette McGrew is willing to do what it takes to make a property competitive in the market.

Sometimes, that means weeding flower beds, washing windows and painting interior walls.

McGrew, with John L. Scott Real Estate's Newcastle office, recently began offering free staging services for her clients.

"In this market it is a must, no question," she said.

Some homes get an entire makeover, a service that can retail for several thousands of dollars.

Faced with a staggering slowdown in the regional — and national — housing markets, local real-estate professionals are working harder to clinch deals.

"The days of just taking the listing and putting it into the [Multiple Listing Service] and letting the MLS sell the property are gone," said Brigitte Pascutoi, managing broker at John L. Scott Real Estate's Bellevue North office.

Instead, brokers and agents say they put in longer hours with clients, spend more money on marketing tools, and work with sellers to achieve the perfect price and presentation to keep homes from languishing on the market.

It's the type of work that's needed to survive in a buyer's market, according to John Deely, managing broker at Coldwell Banker Bain's Seattle office on Lake Union.

"Buyers are really comparison shopping," he said. "They have a lot more time in today's market, and so they're really looking at the plusses and minuses of a property."

Over the years, Bill MacDonald, an associate broker with Windermere Real Estate's Bellevue Commons office, has offered his general-contractor experience to help clients fetch higher prices on their properties.

"Now, [staging] is necessary to attract buyers," MacDonald said.

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The 20-year real-estate veteran recently broke out the toolbox to add double-crown molding to kitchen cabinets, replace light fixtures and install oil-rubbed bronze hardware in a client's home in Woodinville.

MacDonald picked up the listing in July, after it had been on the market a year. He worked with the owners to modernize it with new carpet, paint, landscaping and other changes. He also got them to drop the price $70,000 to $839,000. Now, he's scheduled multiple Sunday afternoon open houses at the property to entice potential buyers through the door.

"It's vacant. It's staged. It's absolutely perfect inside," MacDonald said. "And yet it's impossible to get somebody in to look at it."

Because most buyers do the majority of their home shopping online, Internet promotion is where many agents spend their marketing budgets.

Some local agents pony up for professionally produced videos of their properties, which they later syndicate on dozens of real-estate and consumer Web sites, including YouTube.

Pascutoi says most agents in her office spend $1,000 or more on each property for promotional expenses, such as professional photography, Internet marketing and fliers created by graphic designers.

And on larger sales, which are often advertised in specialty real-estate publications, it's common for an agent to spend $3,000 and $5,000, Pascutoi said.

"They're spending way more money on advertising than they ever have," she said.

McGrew says her workload has more than doubled in recent months.

"It's just more, more, more information," McGrew said. "More time on the phone. More time advertising on the Web. More time in mailings.

"Getting the people to understand that it's OK to buy right now is hard. It's about helping people understand what's going on, and that it's really not the end of the world."

The cooler market also has brought a return of some of the more of the more traditional real-estate activities, such as brokers' open houses.

"For years, we weren't doing them because it was a seller's market," Pascutoi said.

But now, more and more agents are teaming up to host on the events so that agents can preview multiple competing homes in a neighborhood at one time, and network with each other.

"Agents are doing a lot more interacting with other agents in the marketplace," Deely said.

Louis Howard, executive vice president of John F. Buchan Homes and a managing broker at John L. Scott's Bellevue North office, recently began offering "$20 Tuesdays" for agents to preview his company's upscale communities which are mostly on the Eastside.

"It's a cash incentive for them to come out and take a look and preview the properties," he said. "And we also provide complimentary lattes."

Besides getting a chance to tour Buchan's properties, the broker-opens give the company a chance to talk about its latest promotion to woo buyers: no mortgage payments on select homes for 12 months. It's called "Peace of Mind in 2009."

"We'll probably have close to 1,000 agents through (during) the next few weeks," Howard said.

Howard is no stranger to offering incentives to attract attention. Earlier this year, Buchan Homes offered a deal that was geared toward the true jet-setter who can easily drop $1 million to $2 million on a home.

"We basically said if you buy one of our houses, we'll give you private jet membership," Howard said.

While the number of sales and prices of homes have slipped in the past several months, local real-estate professionals are quick to point out that their market is faring much better than others in the country.

"We don't see the Mercedes in the driveway and the trips to Hawaii like in the really distressed markets in California, Arizona and Florida," said Dennis Brown, president-elect of the Seattle King County Association of Realtors.

Most of the local trends, Brown said, are good for buyers. For example, more sellers are offering to pay closing costs, buy down interest rates and negotiate with buyers who make lower offers.

For some real-estate professionals, the change in the market is a reminder of why they got into the business in the first place.

"I didn't really like the frenzied market," said Brown, an agent with Windermere Real Estate's Fauntleroy office in Seattle.

"People had the conception that Realtors were foaming at the mouth. We were so busy. But our business is all about relationships, and when the market is that busy, you don't have time to build long-lasting relationships."

Lisa Pemberton-Butler is a freelance writer. To contact her, e-mail lisapemberton@rocketmail.com.

Information in this article, originally published November 22, 2008 was corrected February 18, 2009. A previous version of this story mislabeled John F. Buchan Homes as Buchan Homes in two photo captions.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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