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Published: Sunday, 4/13/2003

Slowdown at the high end

BY MARY-BETH McLAUGHLIN
BLADE REAL ESTATE WRITER
Bill LeStrange has had his Sylvania Township house, behind him, on the market since August, 2001, and has decreased the asking price. Bill LeStrange has had his Sylvania Township house, behind him, on the market since August, 2001, and has decreased the asking price.
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When he put his almost-new home on the market in August, 2001, Bill LeStrange figured finding a buyer would take three months, tops.

After all, the 4,000-square-foot house has four bedrooms and 31/2 bathrooms, was featured in a Parade of Homes, and is on a lake in a Sylvania Township subdivision.

“We were having showings twice a week and the market was going like crazy,” said Mr. LeStrange, a semi-retired business executive.

Then came the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a lingering economic downturn that caused many buyers to suffer losses in the stock market and all but killed the relocation market for executives, and buyer hesitation because of the war in Iraq.

“The house was listed at $590,000 and I dropped the price $40,000, but that didn't make any difference,” said Mr. LeStrange.

Many homeowners in the Toledo area, especially those whose houses are priced at $300,000 and up, are having similar experiences.

The average number of days a house was on the market during the first quarter of this year was 76, almost a week longer than the average reported a year ago, the Toledo Board of Realtors said.

For all of 2002, the average days on the market were 68.

The slowdown has affected all parts of the Toledo market, said Jon Modene,of Re/Max Masters in Perrysburg.

In Perrysburg in February, he said, the average number of days a house was on the market was 92 this year, compared with 80 a year ago.

“It used to be that you could sell a house in 50 to 60 days,” he said. “Now, it's almost double that.”

Joan Rauh, an agent with Re/Max Preferred Associates in Toledo who has the listing on Mr. LeStrange's home, said houses must be priced appropriately and many sellers are lowering them - some by as much as $100,000 among the priciest houses - to get a deal.

“Or a lot of the sellers are riding the market out because they know a house's worth and everyone's hoping things will change,” she said.

That's the case for the sellers of the former Dodge estate, along the Maumee River in Middleton Township in Wood County.

The property, with nine acres and a 4,000-square-foot house built in the 1960s in a style reminiscent of the Federalist era of the 1700s, was listed at $2 million in 2001 and is still on the market at $1.5 million.

“We have had several offers on that property but not what the owner would like to get,” said John Zachman, of Zachman & Associates in Perrysburg. “It's only the homes in the $150,000 to $200,000 range that go pretty quickly today.”

It's been 33 years since Eli Benstein looked for a house, but he is surprised at his current experience trying to sell his five-bedroom home on Coldstream Road in Sylvania Township.

“We've had probably 15 to 20 people come through the house ... and haven't had one offer,” said the retired aeronautical engineer.

The price has been dropped once, from $219,900 to $214,900, but he's not interested in dipping much below the appraised value of $215,000.

“I'm willing to stand on principle and hold out until someone comes along close to the [asking] price, but I would negotiate with the proper person,” he said.

Dan DiSalle, Jr., of DiSalle Real Estate Co. in Maumee, said existing homes priced above $300,000 are moving slowly because for that money, many people want to build a house.

“The upper price range in my opinion is highly overbuilt ... The lower-end stuff is still going strong,” he said.

Area home prices had been rising, but no longer are. Three years ago, Marcia Rubini, an agent with Re/Max Preferred, listed a house in Sylvania for $219,900 and sold it in a week.

Now, she's attempting to fashion a deal for the same home at $209,900, after it's been on the market nearly eight months.

“Buyers are more knowledgeable and they're pickier,” she said. “They shop longer now than they did before and they're more conservative, even with interest rates that are lower. They don't want to do any work to a home.”

Jim Loss,of Loss Realty Group in Toledo, said the asking price determines how many people will look at a house.

After making an effort to sell a house, if no offer has been made in 30 to 45 days, most agents will recommend that the seller reconsider the price, he said.

“You have to listen to the market and show what the buyers are willing to pay,” he explained. “The market sets the price. It's just so hard to get sellers to understand that.”

As for Mr. LeStrange, who has built a house around the corner, he said he is convinced his home in Waterford at Forest Lakes will sell.

“The market was going so well,” he said. “It's a sin that it just stopped dead in its tracks.”



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