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Grand Rapids area home prices keep falling

by Mark Brace

It's the mantra of the real estate industry, posted on yard signs everywhere: It's a great time to buy.

If you are in a financial position to do so, statistics continue to show the mantra is true.

The average home price in the Grand Rapids area last month was $147,148, a drop of 6.5 percent from September 2006. The average price year to date -- $152,742 -- represents a 4.4 percent drop from this time last year.

Part of that reduction is attributed to the laws of supply and demand.

While there are 8.5 percent more listings than this time last year, residential sales last month were down 6.7 percent from September 2006.

Jamie Starner, president of the Grand Rapids Association of Realtors, said he would like to see more sales, but a drop in the number of listings joining the market was promising.

Nearly 11,700 residential properties were on the market last month. Based on overall sales figures, that equates to more than a year's supply of homes for sale.

But the number of listings entering the market in September was more than 10 percent lower than last September.

"We've got to burn off some of that inventory that we have," Starner said. "We've got to get back to a balanced market."

Pat Vredevoogd, a real estate agent and president of the National Association of Realtors, believes the market is turning.

"I see this in a number of marketplaces, where that number of new listings is stagnating a little bit now, and the number of homes being put on the market is quieting down," she said. "We're also seeing quite a few more people out in the marketplace."

The market is taking its toll on real estate agents.

Membership in the association is down 9 percent from a year ago. And agents say they are working harder for the same or less money.

The decrease in the sale price means a decrease in my paycheck, because it's all based on commission," said Ethan , an agent with A local Realty Company. "I sold about six more units last year than I did in '05 and made the same amount of money."

But as a real estate investor, Ethan also is reaping the benefits of the lower prices. He bought four homes this year to add to his stock of rental houses. They included a property next door to one he already owned.

"I paid less for a neighboring house than my wife and I paid five years ago for the house next door," he said.

The average sale price also is affected by the prices of homes being sold. Sixty percent of homes sold last month were priced for less than $140,000. Last September, it was 54 percent.

Twenty-two percent of homes sold were priced between $140,000 and $200,000, and 18 percent were more than that, including three priced at more than $1 million.

By Cami Reister
The Grand Rapids Press

West Michigan jobs forecast upbeat

by Mark Brace
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
By Julia Bauer
The Grand Rapids Press

Employers in the Holland and Grand Rapids regions are among the most upbeat in the state, based on hiring forecasts by Manpower Inc.

While 7 percent of those surveyed in Holland forecast layoffs this fall, 38 percent expect to hire.

Around Grand Rapids, no employers forecast layoffs, and 23 percent said they expect to add jobs.

One busy spot in Grand Rapids is Pridgeon & Clay Inc., a longtime manufacturer of stamped metal parts for the auto industry. With 19 jobs listed in the help wanted ads, the company still is looking for more help.

"We're having a difficult time finding enough good workers," said Kevin Hutchings, a company spokesman.

The company employs more than 700 at its plant at 50 Cottage Grove St. SW. The firm is moving from a five-day work schedule to two mini-weeks, with two shifts running Monday through Thursday and two more Friday through Sunday.

"We have not slowed down," Hutchings said. "We've put on close to 200 people already."

The fourth-quarter forecast reflects better employer confidence, Manpower spokesman Joe Ross said. The previous quarter showed 17 percent of Grand Rapids area employers adding jobs and 3 percent cutting them.

A year ago, 20 percent of companies said they would add jobs, and 7 percent planned cutbacks.

The best prospects this fall are jobs in nondurable goods manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, finance and insurance, and other services. Manpower forecasts no change in hiring for construction, durable goods, transportation and education.

While Manpower looks ahead, analysts at the W.E. Upjohn Institute in Kalamazoo review the past. It has been a quiet summer on the employment front, according to George Erickcek, senior regional analyst for Upjohn.

With West Michigan unemployment ranging around 6 percent, other parameters measured by Upjohn worsened in the latest quarter. That portends a no-growth forecast for jobs.

The Grand Rapids region, including Kent, Allegan, Barry and Ionia counties, posted just a 0.2 percent job growth last quarter. Manufacturing was up a mite, by 0.1 percent, while construction was down slightly in a soft real estate market.

Other indicators were mixed. Help wanted ads were down 16 percent, and new home construction starts fell 27.6 percent. But new jobless claims fell, by 0.8 percent.

Ottawa County lost 900 jobs this summer, pushing overall employment down by 0.8 percent. Losses were in the service sector and construction. Manufacturing jobs edged up by 0.1 percent, but that meager growth was offset by 2.6 percent jobs lost in construction. The county's housing starts were off more than 43 percent in the past year.

On other fronts, Ottawa County's outlook also is trending toward glum, Upjohn said. Service jobs were off 1.8 percent, with 270 jobs lost in the leisure and hospitality sector. Retailers cut 2.5 percent of their work forces last quarter. The county's unemployment rate stands at 5.5 percent.


More condos coming downtown

by Mark Brace

GRAND RAPIDS -- Another eight condominiums are being planned for Monroe Center.

Virgin Soil Development is planning to build eight condos on the long-vacant second and third floors of 56 Monroe Center NW, which also houses XO Asian Cuisine.

With prices ranging from $139,900 to $159,000, The Brickway Residences will be among the lowest-cost condos downtown.

Brice Bossardet, owner of Virgin Soil, said there is a fertile market on the lower end of the condo market.

Less than one block away along Monroe Center, another developer is offering 16 units in the former Fox's Jewelers building, now dubbed Fox Lofts, for $139,900 to $189,900.

"I think if I had 50 of these, I could sell them," Bossardet said. "It's not really tremendously affordable, but when things are going for $250 per square foot, it makes it a lot more reasonable."

Bossardet, who lives in a condo on Monroe Center NW, is developing and selling higher-end condos across the street at the former Central Bank building, 65 Monroe Center, and on the upper floors of a series of buildings known as Front Row Condominiums.

Two of the 800-square-foot units planned already are reserved, he said. An addition to the weathered rear of the building expanded the second and third floors, while also rerouting XO's cooking exhaust above the building.

Bossardet plans a rooftop deck for residents. Some units facing the rear could get balconies, he said. A new elevator will be installed, along with energy-efficient wood windows.

Bossardet said he likely will seek a grant from the Downtown Development Authority's Building Reuse Incentive Program to help offset some costs for updating the building, which is more than 100 years old.

What you get for your real estate dollars

by Mark Brace

Real estate guru Barbara Corcoran compares the country’s housing prices

The wavering housing market sure is a hot topic these days, as it affects those looking to buy and sell across the country. And while there are deals to be had out there, what you get for your money still fluctuates a great deal — depending on where you live and what your community offers. Are you an urbanite or a suburban dweller?  Do you need a good school system or are cultural amenities top on your list?  It will make a big difference in the price of your home.

Real estate expert Barbara Corcoran highlights homes across the country to find the difference in dollars:

The best deals are obviously in the Midwest and the South ($173,000 and $186,000) and the worst deals are on the West Coast ($349,000) followed by the Northeast ($290,000). The properties listed below, which are all a value for the money, offer a good example of the wide range in property to dollar ratio across the country.

Under $300,000
1. Studio apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y., $292,000: It's tiny, only 400 square feet, but it's on a beautiful tree-lined block, steps from a city park with playgrounds, tennis courts and more. It's a great value for an up-and-coming neighborhood, surrounded by a stretch of great restaurants and a short train ride from Manhattan and all that it has to offer.

2. 4BR, 2 bath in East Grand Rapids, Mich., $279,000: Here's a classic colonial home in a wonderful private community. The school system is one of the best in the state and kids can ride their bikes to get ice cream without any worry. It's newly renovated, with 2600 square feet. That includes a wine cellar, exercise room, big kitchen, brick patio and more.


$500,000 - $550,000 range
3. 2BR, 2½ bath in Tucson, Ariz., $499,000: This Southwestern-style townhome is brand-spankin' new in a gated community surrounded by country clubs, golf courses and endless sunshine.

4. 4BR, 3 bath on 11½ acres in Decatur, Ala., $539,000: You get a lot of land and a lot of house — 3800 square feet. The property comes with its own pond and a screened-in pool and patio. It also has a huge kitchen with two big pantries. And even with all that property, it's just minutes from town.

What you get for a million dollars
5. 1BR, 1 bath in Malibu, Calif., $979,000: Here you're buying location — and it's a good one. This home sits on a third of an acre on top of a mountain with beautiful California views. The school system is excellent, with some of the highest SAT scores in the country.

6. 5BR, 5½ bath in Raleigh, N.C., $1,170,000: This is a real Forrest Gump-style big Georgian mansion. It has a rambling 6000 square feet on five wooded acres. There's the 3-level deck, a 2-story great room, and a gourmet kitchen that would make any cook proud. It's also in a very temperate climate with one of the most neighbor-friendly communities in the U.S.

Figure out what you really want and whether or not you're getting good value:
1. Make a short list of the three things most important to you: Is it the school system? Is it the space? Or is it the commute?

2. You need to understand that you can't get everything you want, but you can always get the three things that are most important to you. If you want a shorter commute you'll get a smaller house. But if you buy a smaller house, you'll pay lower taxes. If a great neighborhood is your top priority, you'll automatically get a great school system and that's great if you have kids.

3. Values are always personal, and it's no different with house buying. It's all out there. You've got to be clear about what's most important to you.

Home sales up 6.5 percent, but prices down

by Mark Brace

Christmas in July?

After seeing the monthly home sales numbers, some real estate agents may think so.

More than 1,000 houses were sold in the Grand Rapids area last month, 6.5 percent more than in July 2006. That is only the third time in the past 23 months that monthly sales figures were up from the previous year. Before that it rose in January and in December 2006.

"We may, in fact, be starting to turn the corner," said Jamie Starner, president of the Grand Rapids Association of Realtors. "We're starting to turn the wheel."

The hike in sales is not the only number making people smile. The number of homes being listed also slowed.

The average sale price dropped 6.9 percent to $151,266. While the drop may mean less profit for the seller, many real-estate agents say it is key to making a sale at all.

"We really haven't seen average sale prices like this since 2004," Starner said. "So it's essentially a price rollback.

"Sellers are beginning to get the message that if they are going to sell, they are going to have to reduce their price."

Re/Max agent Amy Miller said she will recognize the bottom of the market when she sees fewer "Price Reduced" signs on houses.

She orders an appraisal up front so her clients are faced with the realities of the market and price their home correctly from the start. Miller said she turned down three listings last week because the clients would not lower their asking price.

 

"It's like a declining stock market," she said. "You can't sell a stock above the market when the market is going down, no matter how much your neighbor's house sold for two years ago."

Rich Conklin, one of Miller's clients, sold his East Grand Rapids home on Robinson Road SE in one day for more than the asking price.

He attributed it to extensive staging and appropriate pricing.

"Amy said, 'Do you want to sell the house? Don't screw around,' " Conklin said.

Cormac and Lisa Smith also listed with Miller, after several months of trying to sell their East Grand Rapids home on their own.

Miller priced it about $20,000 lower than their asking price, although they had expected it to drop during negotiations.

It sold in three days.

"We were surprised," he said. "Even though Amy really wasn't, we were."

A large majority of the sales last month -- 88 percent -- fell below $200,000. Last July showed the same breakdown.

Starner said that points to first-time buyers.

"I was hoping that it was more evenly distributed across the spectrum," he said. "But that's where the market starts.

"You need to topple the first domino to keep people moving."

David Sova, vice president of Heglund-Sova Realty, said only time will tell if the market is on the rise.

"One month isn't a tell-all,

other than you have to start somewhere," he said.

"If in another three months we're holding our own or having small increases, that would be encouraging."

Grand Rapids better than Boston??

by Mark Brace

Why can’t we be more like Grand Rapids?

By JOANN FITZPATRICK

It’s such a big country, America. I don’t know it well, haven’t traveled from sea to shining sea, except by airplane from East to West several times. Last weekend I was in Michigan, not quite the heartland but close enough.

The combined effect of television programs, chain stores and restaurants and electronic gadgets is that we think we’ve been homogenized.

But it’s not so, thank goodness.

I know that when I visited New Orleans, before and after Hurricane Katrina, this is a place very different from Boston or anywhere else in America.

Texas, too. But what of the vast Midwest? Is it really different from New England or California?

Darned right, it is. I was in Grand Rapids, Mich., for a wedding. What I knew about Grand Rapids before going there was that it was the hometown of President Gerald Ford and site of his presidential library and museum. And also the home of Amway, though I and other out-of-town guests had only a vague idea of what Amway sells.

The small talk that predominates at events like this was punctuated repeatedly by wedding guests proclaiming to one another, ‘‘What a nice town, what a surprise!’’ Many if not most of the guests flew in from both coasts and interesting places in between, such as Santa Fe. There was elitism to spare but at the same time a willingness to be charmed by a place that truly seems to represent good old-fashioned American values.

If there are surreptitious litter police, they keep themselves well hidden, but the streets of Grand Rapids are as gleaming as the refurbished buildings throughout the downtown. Community pride is everywhere. I couldn’t help but compare what I saw to cities and towns back home.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Boston and New England, from the coastline to the old mill towns like the one where I grew up, Manchester, N.H. But there’s no disputing that the quality of life in this area continues to deteriorate. We blame government for not investing more in parks and beaches, but who’s dropping the garbage? It’s not the government; it’s us. The mounds of Dunkin’ Donuts cups scarring off-ramps on our highways is disgusting. Local streets are no better and because we seem not to care, the habit just grows.

In Grand Rapids, Midwestern friendliness and helpfulness were everywhere. I left my camera in a cab and within minutes of calling the hotel, staff was on the case. They called back 15 minutes later, not having located it yet but to let me know I had not been forgotten. I nearly fainted from the shock of random kindness. (Yes, I got it back.) When was the last time someone actually cared that you lost an item in their store, or even that you were shopping there?

Downtown Grand Rapids, a city of about 200,000, is a laboratory of urban renewal. Formerly a manufacturing city - home of Kelvinator, for example - it faces a huge challenge in reshaping its economy. The state of Michigan is no help, since its automobile-reliant economy has been in the hopper for years, with more bad news sure to come.

So what is Grand Rapids turning to? Health care. And here is where it could be interesting to Massachusetts. Spectrum Health, Grand Rapids’ biggest employer, is creating a cancer center and also expanding its medical research, including a new center for molecular medicine. Michigan State University is moving its medical school to the city. You may say, ‘‘So what?’’ But think about all those Boston-area college graduates, our biggest source of human capital, and the cost of living in Massachusetts, and then compare it to Grand Rapids. There you can buy a five-bedroom house in the historic district for $400,000. Yup, $400,000, and you could walk to work, breathe clean air and not worry about litter blowing in your face. And your children could attend a neighborhood school. The historic district, a microcosm of American architectural styles, was rehabilitated decades ago solely because of the efforts of public-spirited citizens.

I am not writing this to encourage young people to leave Massachusetts. I think it’s important to recognize, though, that we don’t necessarily have it all here. We have first-class hospitals and colleges with costs to match and housing prices that make building a future here ever more difficult. We also have a shortage of the kind of community spirit I saw in Grand Rapids.

There, the Amway Corp. and its founders put their names all over downtown, investing in public buildings they hope will rejuvenate the city.

Here, corporations hand out a few dollars to local charities, but there is less to donate as they are bought up by national companies more interested in naming rights on arenas than in philanthropy or rebuilding communities.

Look around your town: Can it be improved? Probably. I am tired of dirty streets and blaring car horns, bad manners and shoddy service. We’re better than that, aren’t we?

JoAnn Fitzpatrick, former editorial page editor

Copyright 2007 The Patriot Ledger
Transmitted Saturday, June 16, 2007

Most Affordable Suburbs in Midwest. There are still spots in the Midwest where home prices are not out of reach yet and the quality of life is high. It's great to see a suburb of Grand Rapids, MI Highlighted in this article.

In its ongoing series, BusinessWeek Online is taking a look at the most affordable suburbs in the Midwestern states. Using data compiled by Sperling’s Best Places, it lists the most attractive suburbs alphabetically, taking into account cost of living, violent crime, school test scores, and median home prices.

The following are the top 25 Midwest suburbs that made BusinessWeek Online's list, along with their proximity to big cities and their median home prices. Locales are listed alphabetically.

Most Affordable Midwest Cities

  1. Appleton-Oshkosh-Neenah, Wis. (89.3 miles to Milwaukee): $119,500
  2. Columbia, Mo. (145.5 miles to St. Louis): $269,000
  3. Coralville, Iowa (4 miles to Iowa City): $239,800
  4. DeForest, Wis. (12.3 miles to Madison): $274,900
  5. Elkhorn, Neb. (15.6 miles to Omaha): $298,000
  6. Evendale, Ohio (9.2 miles to Cincinnati): $259,900
  7. Fargo, N.D. (276.7 miles to Minneapolis): $199,000
  8. Green Bay, Wis. (101.1 miles to Milwaukee): $229,900
  9. Hilliard, Ohio (10.8 miles to Columbus): $195,000
  10. Hudsonville, Mich. (16.5 miles to Grand Rapids): $214,900
  11. Lake Zurich, Ill. (37.2 miles to Chicago): $659,900
  12. Lakeville, Minn. (18.9 miles to Minneapolis): $402,300
  13. Lawrence, Kan. (48.6 miles to Kansas City): $284,900
  14. Maumee, Ohio (8.5 miles to Toledo): $234,700
  15. Noblesville, Ind. (19.9 miles to Indianapolis): $185,000
  16. Rapid City, S.D.: $239,500
  17. Rochester, Minn. (77.9 miles to St. Paul): $373,000
  18. Shawnee, Kan. (15.1 miles to Kansas City): $300,000
  19. Sheboygan, Wis. (50.8 miles to Milwaukee): $329,000
  20. St. Charles, Mo. (21.6 miles to St. Louis): $249,800
  21. Waukesha, Wis. (19.6 miles to Milwaukee): $209,500
  22. Wausau, Wis. (131.5 miles to Madison): $149,900
  23. West Des Moines, Iowa (9 miles to Des Moines): $349,000
  24. West Lafayette, Ind. (69.2 miles to Indianapolis): $195,000
  25. Wichita, Kan.: $127,900

This article was taking from Daily Real Estate News  |  June 2, 2007

Displaying blog entries 71-77 of 77

Contact Information

Mark Brace, Realtor, ABR, GRI, CRS, SRES, e-PRO, A
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Michigan Real Estate
3000 East Beltline NE
Grand Rapids MI 49525
Direct: (616) 447-7025
Cell: (616) 540-7705
Fax: (616) 447-7025

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices - Michigan Real Estate is a full service, locally operated real estate brokerage company backed by the strength of a solid national and global brand. Our full service businesses include Residential, Commercial, Relocation, Mortgage, Insurance, Home Services and New Homes & Land. Our core values, service philosophy, cutting edge technology, and most importantly our people are what make us the leading real estate company in Michigan. We are committed to providing the highest quality real estate services possible and making each customer's experience one that surpasses their expectations.