Agents get creative in inventory crunch

The pace of today's housing market means real estate agents are getting creative to find new listings.

Like successful agents across the country, Rachel Finkbohner understands the importance of finding new listings for buyers. With inventories so tight in her Dallas market, Finkbohner, a sales associate with Briggs Freeman/Sotheby’s International Realty, is taking a creative approach.

When a first-time buyer contacted Finkbohner about buying a home in the local Briarwood market, she checked the MLS, but saw there were no active listings.  So, Finkbohner decided to reach out to her past clients in the neighborhood and see if they might be interested in selling. “I was out walking the dogs, and saw my client,” she says. “I asked if they wanted to sell their home, provided they got a good price for it.”

Finkbohner’s client said “yes,” and she was able to close the two-bedroom, two-bath off-market transaction for the highest price per square foot in the neighborhood. But before the buyers could move in, Finkbohner had to find a new home for the current owners. “It took about a month and a half to find their new home,” she says. “In the meantime, the sellers paid several weeks of rent to the buyers, so the timing would work out for everyone.”

An inventory shortage

Nationwide, active listings fell to 491,000 in April before rebounding slightly to 606,000 in July, according to statistics by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. For comparison, there were 910,000 listings in July 2020 and 1.36 million active listings in September 2019, prior to the COVID-19  pandemic.

That July report from the Fed also noted that homes sold more quickly, with 38 median days on market, compared with 59.5 in July 2020, even though the median listing price rose from $349,000 to $385,000 in the same period.

While a balanced housing market typically has a six-month supply of inventory, in many U.S. markets the supply is down to just one or two months, leading to bidding wars as buyers compete for the few available properties. There are signs that trend is changes as the pace of activity slackens after the peak summer moving season.  

However, the inventory shortage isn’t going to disappear anytime soon, based on long-term supply and demand trends. On the demand side, older Millennials are playing a fast-growing role in many U.S. markets, seeking single-family homes with space for a family and a home office. Other first-time buyers are taking advantage of historically low interest rates to purchase condominiums, townhomes or starter homes that get them out of a rental apartment.

On the other hand, many Gen X and Boomer owners are staying put. The average length of stay of a homeowner was about 10 years, according to a 2020 survey by the National Association of Realtors. That translates into fewer homes being put on the market each year.

Meanwhile, the pace of new residential construction has lagged well below demand since the 2008-09 recession.  A report from the National Association of Realtors found that U.S. builders would need to construct 2.1 million homes each year for a decade in order to catch up. That is far more than the number of homes built during the boom years of the mid 2000s.

An August 18 report from the U.S. Census Bureau noted that the pace of new home starts was well below the NAR target figure.  Total housing starts in July reflected a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.534 million residences, down from the June estimate of 1.65 million.   As for single-family homes, the annualized rate was 1.11 million, down 4.5 percent from the June figure.

Advice for agents

With inventories tight throughout the nation, creative listing strategies are more important than ever.  Finkbohner suggests two effective strategies for agents. First, reach out to past clients and other contacts. “I send out a lot of letters to my sphere of influence,” she says. “In the last round, I got two positive responses for 100 letters.”

She also advises networking with other agents in the market to see if they have a past client willing to sell. “I look back at my records and call agents I’ve worked with in the past,” she says. “I might remind them of a deal we did several years ago and ask if that client would be willing to sell now.”

There are other ways to stay in touch with clients and referral sources, including personal notes, phone calls, social media posts and email market updates. For instance, Finkbohner used an Instagram post about her off-market transaction to let buyers know she was willing to go beyond the MLS when searching for a prospective home.

But the key to generating new listings is constantly being on the lookout for potential sellers, according to Finkbohner. “Today, everything is for sale, provided you can get the right price for the owners.”