How much is my house worth? Why is the house down the street getting appraised for so much less than we all paid five years ago? The answers — sometimes unknowable — to these and many other questions form part of Joe Sutliff’s current volunteer job as the president of the Roanoke Valley Association of Realtors. Yes, he keeps up with local, state and national trends and statistics that let him help his colleagues help their clients, as well as his own. Yes, he serves on committees both local and state. As a result, he knows that while existing home sales are up, prices are down, at least for a while, as our area comes out of a housing price slump.
Sutliff, an agent with ReMax All Stars located on Roanoke Road in a renovated former college building behind Blue Collar Joe’s, has a background in religion. After finishing high school at Lord Botetourt, he attended college and then Southeastern Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. He worked as a minister of education in two churches before a Carolina agent “lured me away into real estate,” he said. “I had no ambition to be a senior pastor. I wanted to be in the education part of it.”
So, having found a compatible career, he and his wife Kim decided after their second child they wanted to live close to their parents in this area. So they moved, and after transferring his real estate license to Virginia, he started representing buyers and sellers of real estate here.
“I enjoy what I do. Some agents have given up in the area. When the market was good, we had close to 1,750 agents in our area. Our association membership right now is at 1210.” He isn’t seeing as many new folks getting into the business now.
Which leads him into the murky topic of what a house is worth. Even in Botetourt, he sees some distressed properties, either ones foreclosed or those heading that way. So when a neighbor goes to sell, an appraiser has to set a value. And all it takes is one foreclosure or short sale — a sale for way less than the house is worth, when a bank takes some part of what the seller owes — to bring down the value for the entire street. “So if it’s generally a $300,000 neighborhood and one sells for $225,000 or $250,000, it becomes a comparable sale” — a sale an appraiser must look at to set the value for all the nearby places.
Such low price sales skew the appraisal and thus the loan process. “They back up the whole system.” And make the job of deciding how much the property really is worth very difficult. No neighborhood enjoys immunity from this process. “We’ve seen foreclosures in just about every neighborhood and every price range.” Some longtime agents have never seen a downturn like this going so long, he noted.
What will stabilize the market and pull it out? “Personally I think it goes back to jobs. Jobs will also build consumer confidence for everything. When you buy a house you put $10,000 to $20,000 into things like furniture, curtains, rugs and appliances.” Two hopeful signs: very low interest rates on 30-year fixed rate mortgages and a national and regional slight upward trend.
For now, can you get financing for a house in Botetourt? “Absolutely!” he replied. “Lenders want to put the message out. With good credit and a stable job they’ll work with you for good financing.” With Sutliff and all the Realtors in Botetourt.
For more information about the Roanoke Valley Association of Realtors, call Sutliff at 540-761-9091.