- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2005

One of the most popular measures of just how much the region’s real estate market has changed over the years is captured with a nostalgic remembrance of a time when cows were part of the landscape in the Tysons Corner area along state Route 7 in Fairfax County.

This popular theater-of-the-mind visual aid crops up in the media from time to time as a virtual-milepost gauge of the region’s fast-paced development.

Changed as well is the real estate experience for buyers and sellers.

“When I came in, the market was quite different. It was a buyer’s market. Interest rates were higher. It was a slower market. There was far less paperwork. And computer technology was not that big a factor,” Jim Kneussl says, looking back 17 years.

In contrast, newcomer Daniel Lusk of Lockard, Lusk & McCormick Group, who began his real estate career three years ago, says he grew up using the Internet and e-mail.

“If my clients don’t hear back from an e-mail they have sent in one or two hours,” Mr. Lusk says, “most are calling on the telephone, asking, ‘What is the problem?’ ”

A retired Dun & Bradstreet vice president and now head of the Gaithersburg-North Potomac office of Weichert Realtors, Mr. Kneussl underscores the importance of computer technology. He cites a National Association of Realtors survey reporting that seven out of 10 home buyers use the Internet as part of their search.

The NAR Web site indicates that Realtors are keeping pace with new and emerging technologies.

The group reports that 50 percent of Realtors have personal Web sites, 95 percent use a mobile phone, 77 percent use a digital camera, 41 percent have a high-speed Internet connection, 40 percent use personal digital assistants, and 7 percent use global positioning technology.

Mr. Lusk says multiple-listing services are “phasing in an Internet-based system, creating a virtual office that will allow Realtors to access listings from a client’s home.”

Mr. Kneussl says that largely because of technology, “buyers and sellers are more informed and more sophisticated. They understand the process. There are not as many mysteries involved for them.”

Tracy Pless of Long & Foster in Reston, who began her real estate career in 1986 after a career as an airline flight manager, says the Internet has resulted in buyers who are “more intelligent about the process of buying a home” and sellers who are “smarter and more astute” in selecting Realtors.

“Sellers are demanding better marketing of their homes,” Ms. Pless says.

Mr. Lusk says he has noticed a difference in buyers and sellers just in the relatively short time he has been a Realtor.

“Two and a half years ago, it was for the most part affordable for buyers,” Mr. Lusk says. “Today, it is increasingly difficult for someone making, let’s say $100,000 a year and able to afford a $450,000 home, to find much more than a one-bedroom condo or a one-bedroom town house with a nice little deck for less than $600,000.”

As for sellers, Mr. Lusk says that although he understands the desire for top dollar, it’s difficult when sellers have an inflated view of the value of their home.

“They will say, ‘That place over there sold for that,’ ” he says. “Does the market encourage this? Sure. Absolutely.”

Mr. Lusk says a recent open house in the Rock Creek Park area for a property priced at $1,500,000 drew 80 people, while a Kalorama home priced at $1,300,000 drew more than 200.

“We all get discouraged,” Ms. Pless says, “old and new.”

She says it is not unusual for a house in Reston to have two to 15 buyers looking at it, with multiple contracts.

“When I started, the contracts were two pages. They are now five and soon to be 10 pages,” Ms. Pless says.

She adds that laws have changed quite a bit since she began in 1986, a time when Realtors worked almost exclusively for sellers. Realtors now represent buyers about as often as sellers.

Mr. Lusk says that when he was new and writing contracts for buyers and presenting their offers, there were listing agents who would scoff at clauses for home-inspection and appraisal contingencies.

Besides determining if a house has structural issues, “a home inspection is for the buyer to find out how the house works,” Mr. Lusk says. “Where is the main turn-off valve for the water? Where are the filters located? How often should they be checked and replaced?”

“I don’t think a lot of young Realtors realize how difficult it can be,” Ms. Pless says.

Still, their ranks continue to grow.

Ms. Pless says the Northern Virginia Realtors Association added 600 new members in the first two months of the year.

“Even after family and friends, it is going to be difficult to make a living. You really must work at growing the business,” Ms. Pless says.

Mr. Kneussl says some “top-notch” young people are entering the real estate field.

“They are younger than we were,” he says. “I think when I began, the average age of those becoming realtors was 44 or 45. Today, it is more like 25 to 30.”

Several area programs are available to assist new Realtors, Mr. Kneussl says. Weichert has a mentoring program, and the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors began a Rookie Society about four years ago to help new Realtors “transition from the basic pre-licensing training to the real-world application,” he says.

Part of the transition includes the application of new technologies. However, technology alone does not guarantee success.

Although Realtors may require more than a telephone and shoe leather in the 21st century, Ms. Pless and Mr. Kneussl say, buyers and sellers will continue to value the role of Realtors.

“Buyers and sellers are more astute and smarter,” Ms. Pless says.

While they are interviewing three or four agents and making use of the Internet, they are still looking for “integrity, professionalism and honesty,” she says. “They want to feel there is chemistry.”

“Despite the computer,” Mr. Kneussl says, “there is still a need to have interpersonal relationships and a need for people skills.”

Mr. Lusk, the newcomer, says he didn’t realize the “huge impact” he would make in people’s lives as a Realtor.

“For buyers and sellers, the experience is very personal and emotional, and you really see that come out in people,” Mr. Lusk says.

Real estate veterans and newcomers alike have no crystal ball to see what the future holds for the area’s real estate market.

Yet there seems to be an agreement among them that the region’s real estate inventory will continue to outpace demand for the foreseeable future.

Sales rates are expected to continue to benefit from low interest rates and financing options, and it is unlikely that area Realtors will go the way of the Tysons Corner cows.

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