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Spring Is Here, but the Housing Market Lags


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.



NPR's Chris Arnold has the details.

CHRIS ARNOLD: Whenever the housing market is slumping, home sellers and realtors grit their teeth, dig in during the winter months and look forward to spring. They hope that as the ground thaws, buyers will emerge along with the lilacs and dahlias. But so far, no such luck.

KAREN ABRAHAM: We've been rationalizing that the weather's been really dreary. And who wants to go out and look at houses when it's gray and raining and windy?

ARNOLD: Karen Abraham and her husband, Nathan(ph), have had their four-bedroom house in Natick, Massachusetts on the market for the past two months.

ABRAHAM: So, we're hoping now that spring has actually arrived and our daffodils are finally opening up, that it's going to encourage more people to be out looking, you know, that are planning to move, to get out looking.


ARNOLD: The Abrahams bought this house two years ago for $739,000. The house was the first teardown project on the block, where a new home replaced an older one. So while it's got a gas fireplace in the family room and a nice kitchen, the other homes around it are older and smaller.

NATHAN ABRAHAM: I guess it's one of the cardinal rules in real estate - you don't buy the most expensive house in the neighborhood. And we broke that rule, so I guess we're paying for it a little bit now.

ARNOLD: Nathan Abraham says they've just cut their price to $20,000 less than they paid, but they don't have an offer yet despite the warmer spring weather. And that's not too surprising. Around the country, sales of existing homes fell eight percent just last month and many economists expect that sales will keep slumping and buyers will stay skittish.

ABRAHAM: People are still very cautious and they're still waiting.

ARNOLD: Scott and Lisa Ripley(ph) are sitting here in their back porch. Scott's a nurse recruiter for hospitals and Lisa works in education. They have two boys - four and eight years old - who are literally climbing on top of Scott while he's talking.

SCOTT RIPLEY: Yeah, with these two growing and the four of us, it's only just under 1,300 square feet. There's really no family room area. That's been the biggest challenge. So we're kind of on top of each other now and so that's why we've been looking and...

LISA RIPLEY: We cannot spend that much more time in this house.

ARNOLD: So a few months ago, Lisa Ripley found a bigger house nearby that has been sitting on the market for more than six months.

RIPLEY: The gentleman had been in there for 10 years and did a fantastic job redoing the place. And it's really - we have some cosmetic stuff to do, but nothing major.

ARNOLD: The other house is more than twice the square footage, and at $379,000, it seems like a great deal. That's one thing about a down housing market - you can sometimes find a bargain. Realtors say prices on some homes around Boston have fallen seven to 10 percent or more. So the Ripleys got to work trying to sell their current house. They've set a price that the home would have sold out a few years ago. They cleaned it up.

RIPLEY: I painted the whole inside of the house again.

ARNOLD: The process was a nail-biter. They had to get an extension on their agreement to buy the other house because no offers were coming in on theirs. And in a down market, they decided they'd rather walk away than risk getting stuck with two mortgages. Their broker, Maria Tallamo-Schmidt was trying all kinds of things to attract attention.

MARIA TALLAMO: We had a cannoli open house here. We've kind of made it, well, instead of having a normal, boring open-house, we had tea with china and we had cannolis freshly made that morning.

ARNOLD: Tallamo-Schmidt also tried offering $500 gift cards for Home Depot and Target to anyone who would buy the house.

TALLAMO: That didn't really make a difference. So we changed it. We did a free year of dry cleaning. And people kind of responded to that. You know what, it actually made people laugh. You know, it's kind of, like, who does that, you know, and a year's worth? Woo hooh.

ARNOLD: And three days before their agreement with the sellers to the other house expired, the Ripleys finally got an offer - $333,000 - just a bit under their asking price, provided they actually did kick in the dry cleaning.

TALLAMO: It's so funny they all say no, no, you know, that's not why I bought it but don't forget the free dry cleaning and the (Unintelligible). Don't forget that.

ARNOLD: Chris Arnold, NPR News, Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.