Every week, we ask a Houston real estate professional for their thoughts on the top three stories from the week before.
This week, we talked with Jeff Vrana, a Realtor with Better Homes and Garden Real Estate Gary Greene Champions in Spring who, prior to becoming an agent, managed 2000 REO properties for a national mortgage company and oversaw mortgage loans in 42 states as the CFO of another mortgage firm.
Houston Agent (HA): Our article on the six priciest ZIP codes in Houston generated quite a bit of interest from our readers; in your area, what ZIP codes/areas have generated the most attention among your clients?
Jeff Vrana (JV): I work primarily with clients looking for homes in Northwest Houston. Although the entire Northwest side has held its own over the last several years, there are several zip codes generating a lot of attention during this upturn in the local real estate market:
- 77069 – This ZIP code is anchored by the prestigious Champions Golf Course, and features great family neighborhoods such as Champions, Huntwick, Champions Park and Champions Park North. Conveniently located with easy access to Hwy 249 and Beltway 8, this ZIP code is ideal for those working in other areas of the city who want to spend less time commuting and more time enjoying their homes and family. The area known for its tall pines and great public schools, and has homes with an average $93/SF list price in the ZIP code; however, several homes on the golf course are listed for well over $200/SF. This area has seen a lot of resurgence, as kids that grew up in this area are making their way back to the suburbs and in the process remodeling these 25-plus-year-old homes.
- 77379 – This ZIP code just north of 77069 covers a much larger area and number of listings. The ZIP code, historically known for its great schools and family communities, features many great neighborhoods. The two that are probably the most well-known are Champions Forest and Gleannloch Farms, but there are several great neighborhoods, including Terranova West, Windrose and Spring Creek Oaks, just to name a few. Like 77069, there is a wide variety of price ranges in the ZIP code and several listings that top the $1 million mark, and a few that extend above the $200/SF threshold. There are a few hidden gems that are not so well know, but feature very beautiful high end homes behind their protective gates. Sterling Gate Estates and The Lakes of Sterling Gates are just two of those hidden treasures.
- 77070 – This ZIP code, just west of 77069, is known for its well-established neighborhoods of Lakewood Forest and Norchester, and also for Prestonwood Forest and its “Nite of Lites,” but the new hot neighborhood that propelled this ZIP code into my top three is Vintage Lakes. This gated community, just north of Louetta and East of Hwy 249, features easy access to Hwy 249 and Beltway 8. With some listings well above the $1 million price range, the predominate price point is between $550,000 and $700,000. One of the appealing features of this community, besides the upscale homes, gated access and lake front properties is its proximity to the Vintage, with its upscale shopping and trendy restaurants.
HA: What forms of online marketing have you found to be the most effective for your business? And do you use different kinds of marketing for different purposes? (meaning, one program for lead generation, another for marketing listings, etc.).
JV: I’m more of a traditionalist when it comes to lead generation. Most of my business is generated from my farm, my circle of influence and referrals. I do generate buyer clients that call on my listings they find online. This is my approach. Everybody is different. There are agents in our office that generate over 90 percent of their business through Internet leads where they have no direct or indirect relationship with the buyer or seller. Everybody is different, and what works for one agent may or may not work for another. I think it’s important to find out what approach you are comfortable with, and devote the time, energy and resources to make that approach a success.
As far as marketing my listings, I am fortunate to be working for the largest broker in Houston, Better Homes and Garden Gary Greene. They understand how important this aspect of the business is in getting your listings seen and ultimately sold. With more than 90 percent of buyers using the Internet as a source to find their home, it is more important than ever to expose your listings on as many sites as possible. Our broker contracts with a listing service that sends out listings to more than 900 websites that feature residential real estate properties as part of their service. Customers these days are very diverse and everyone has their favorite site where they shop for homes. It is very important that wherever they go, your listing is there. More website views equals more property showings, which equals more potential buyers, and if everything works the way it should a higher sales price and or quicker sale should result.
HA: And finally, 2012 was a great year for real estate in Houston; what things are you looking forward to in 2013? And how do you predict the market will turn out this year?
JV: I see the 2013 market picking up where 2012 left off. There doesn’t seem to be any signs of a slow-down in the foreseeable future, especially since most predict interest rates will remain low throughout 2013 and into 2014. With single-family home sales for 2012 up 16.1 percent over 2011 and inventory down to a 3.7-months supply, this is a great market if you are selling a home. The biggest problem we face as Realtors is when working with buyers. We need to educate our buyers as to the current market conditions. The days of a seller accepting a low-ball offer are few and far between. The problem is that the news of our hot real estate market has not trickled down to the general population.
Most buyers don’t realize the current situation. I had a buyer today tell me that she thought the housing market in Houston was depressed. This shows how the news has not made it down to most people not involved in the day-to-day real estate market. The last three offers I have submitted had multiple offers involved. Homes that are priced right and show well are moving extremely fast. It is a great time to be a seller. My hope for 2013 is that we continue to see strong sales, but that people that have been on the fence for a while, gain an understanding of the current market and list their home. If sales continue to grow and our inventory gets a little closer to a 6-month supply, 2013 could be one of the greatest real estate years in a long time.