Lenders getting better at short sales, couple says

  • Realtors Sara and Scott Mitchell in front of a Huntley home they are listing.

    Realtors Sara and Scott Mitchell in front of a Huntley home they are listing. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Published: 2/14/2010 12:00 AM

Sara and Scott Mitchell, Realtors with Century 21 New Heritage in Hampshire, formed their professional partnership years after they formed their personal partnership.

The couple already had four children by the time they decided that Scott should quit his job as a crew scheduler at United Airlines and join her in the real estate business.

"I got into real estate nine years ago," Sara recalled, "and after four years of crazy hours and never seeing each other, we decided that it was time for Scott to join me in the business. He was already doing some behind the scenes stuff to help me anyway."

"Both Scott and I love to work with people," she continued. "I am a people person and so is he."

From the time she entered the business, Sara has been heavily involved in the community, serving on the Huntley Chamber of Commerce board of directors and even as the chamber's president for a couple of years. She is also very active in the PTA organizations at her children's schools.

Scott is following suit, becoming heavily involved in the local Rotary Club.

"We see this as a form of marketing," Scott said. When someone they know through an organization is ready to buy or sell a house, the hope is that they will think of Sara and Scott Mitchell first.

Scott is the first to say that most of his work is behind the scenes. He takes all of the photographs and virtual tours of their listings and is teaching the skill to the couple's 16-year-old son. He also enjoys working with the buyers while Sara spends lots of time with the sellers.

"It is my job to make Sara look good and I think that I have the easiest job in the world," he quipped.

Sara admits there are pros and cons to working together when you are married.

"It is hard for me to 'turn off' real estate at the end of the day and have 100 percent family time," she said. "Scott is much better at doing that than I am."

"But we love working together because we get to see more of each other this way, even though we do have to split the duties so that we can cover everything," Scott said.

And they have obviously gotten to see each other more than they once did since they now have six children ranging in age from 5 to 16.

"I came from a family of 13," Sara said, "so six doesn't seem like that many to me."

How is the Chicago real estate market faring right now?

"We see a strong improvement over last year," Scott said. "In fact, 2009 was better for us than 2008 was. The worst year for real estate was 2008."

"We haven't done any foreclosure sales but we have handled some short sales," Sara said. "And lately the banks seem to be responding to short sales offers much faster. I think that they are getting better at handling them.

"The first-time buyer credit that the government did helped some, but we need to get the word out better about the $6,500 credit that is now being offered to established homeowners," she added.

The Mitchells believe homeowners who have lost so much equity in their current homes are the ones who really need the tax credit.

"Buyers need to understand that now really is the best time to buy. We are in the valley as far as prices go and I don't think that interest rates are going to stay this low past the summer," Sara said.

Likewise, they said, sellers need to realize that if they are thinking about selling their home, this is the time to do it.

"I think that we have a three- to six-month window here to buy and sell before the market changes again," Sara said.

Do you see more movement in any specific sector - i.e. single family, condominium, townhouse?

"This far west we mainly sell single family-homes and townhouses and we see the single-family homes selling the fastest," Sara said. "But those homes are selling at much lower price points than we saw in the past."

Did the rise in gas prices a few years ago affect how far people are willing to commute to work and where they are shopping for homes?

"We still see people from the closer in suburbs wanting to come west for more property, bigger houses and specific school districts," Scott said.

"We also do lots of business in Sun City in Huntley and things have changed there, thanks to the economy," Sara said.

No homes in the active adult community have sold for more than $400,000 in the last year, the Mitchells said. The $250,000 to $300,000 price range is now the most popular one, she said.

People feel that at that point in their lives, it doesn't make sense to spend more than they have to on a house, Sara said.

What steps need to still be taken by the government to strengthen the Chicago area market?

"If I had my wish, they would extend the $6,500 tax credit for current owners through the summer and even increase the amount of the credit. People who have lost equity in their current homes are the ones who really need the help," Sara said.

What do you foresee in the future?

"If unemployment continues to climb, I am afraid that I see more foreclosures and short sales in our future," Sara said. "We know people who have been unemployed for over a year. They are depleting all of their savings and in some cases, they can't borrow any more money from family."