On the House: For real estate, cold was just the tip of the iceberg

Foundations couldn't be dug, open houses were canceled, and parking? Don't even think about it. The winter was just bad news.
Foundations couldn't be dug, open houses were canceled, and parking? Don't even think about it. The winter was just bad news. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 30, 2014

It was an Easter Sunday in the late 1990s that happened to fall in April, a couple weeks after the old start of daylight saving time.

The day was dark and cloudy, and it began snowing heavily about 7 p.m.

"That's the good thing about daylight savings time," my wife said, looking out the living room window. "There's now enough light to see the snow falling."

It had been a bad winter that year - though not as bad as the one that officially just ended. Coming off two very mild winters made this winter worse, especially for real estate agents and builders.

At last, however, spring has sprung - without any guarantees of warmth or sun, but with enough light to see where we've been.

How bad was the winter? A few weeks ago, in the middle of a common freeze-up following a rare warm-up, we talked with builders, who talked about foundations that couldn't be dug, concrete that couldn't be poured, and the topsoil that melted into muck.

Real estate agents had a variety of experiences this winter, a lot of them bad, even though most say that motivated buyers showed up even in the worst of it.

It didn't keep Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach Realtors' Kit Anstey and his team in West Chester from showing or listing houses "since we all have four-wheel vehicles," he said.

Still, many relocation buyers from out-of-state did have to cancel visits to look at houses because of problems with flights here and elsewhere, he said.

Some problems caused by snow and ice were a reflection of city life.

"If you had an appointment and you had to park in someone's spot, God help you," said Christopher J. Artur, who owns the real estate brokerage bearing his name in Philadelphia's Mayfair section.

"Because the city doesn't plow these little side streets, there are a third of the usual parking spots," Artur said. "Since hardly anyone shovels their walks, there is a liability issue if someone you are taking to see a house slips and falls."

Other situations reflected the changing face of how real estate is marketed these days.

For Martin Millner, of Coldwell Banker Hearthside in Yardley, the biggest issue was scheduling listing photography.

"Buyers are complaining that there is no inventory, so sellers have a great opportunity to attract motivated buyers, but it has been incredibly difficult to get my photographer and videographer into houses," he said.

The winter canceled broker open houses, usually held midweek to pair a listing with an agent's clients, said John Badalamenti, at BHHS Fox & Roach in Blue Bell.

It also canceled weekend buyers' open houses.

And it added to the workload of many agents, who had to ensure that their listings, if vacant, remained safe and warm.

"As winter begins, agents make sure they discuss with their sellers the importance of winterizing, to avoid having pipes burst as temperatures drop," said Noelle Barbone, of Weichert Realtors in Media.

"Agents must also make sure these properties are accessible and in showing condition," Barbone said. "Many sellers do hire a company to come in and plow or shovel, as needed."

Ruth Feldman, of Weichert Realtors McCarthy Associates in Mount Airy, put numbers on the effects of what someone curiously referred to as the "15th worst winter in 120 years, as it pertains to heating-degree days."

Sales were down, also due to the weather, but prices were up, Feldman believes, because inventory remained low and eager buyers were willing to pay more rather than wait for more choices.

Days on market, however, were up sharply.


aheavens@phillynews.com

215-854-2472 @alheavens

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