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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 26, 2006

Still waiting for a buyer

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Jon and Alicia Sturnick of 'Ewa Beach are surprised at how fast the housing market has slowed down. They are holding their eighth consecutive open house today on their Ocean Pointe home, listed for $575,000.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Alicia and Jon Sturnick of 'Ewa Beach dropped the asking price on their Ocean Pointe house by $15,000 and are starting to get the uneasy feeling that they missed the peak of O'ahu's latest housing boom.

"If we had put it on the market earlier, we would have definitely sold it already," Alicia Sturnick said. "I knew the market would slow down but I didn't know it would happen so soon."

Last month, they lowered their asking price from $590,000 to $575,000, which positioned it well below January's median sale price of $615,000 for a single-family home.

If nothing happens at their eighth consecutive open house today, 56 days will have passed since the Sturnicks put their house up for sale. The 3-year-old house has two stories, three bedrooms, a two-car garage, central air conditioning and probably would have had people lined up to buy it just four or five months ago.

But in January, the median number of days that single-family homes on O'ahu stayed on the market was 40, meaning half of the homes were on the market longer and half for fewer days, according to the Honolulu Board of Realtors. The last time single-family homes sat on the market so long was back in March 2002, when the days on the market stood at 53.

"When the market was running at 20 and 15 days, people had to get in line to make offers that were at or above the list price," said Harvey Shapiro, research economist for the Honolulu Board of Realtors. "Now people have more time to make a decision."

The Sturnicks, like many others interviewed, have dropped their price and continue to hope for any kind of offer. But in their Ocean Pointe neighborhood, they have found that 52 other homes are also for sale. And while Alicia Sturnick said she has kept their house in immaculate condition, several other single-family homes are brand new and priced in the same range.

"I think I missed a very profound peak," Jon Sturnick said. "I'm a little bit disappointed. But I know our house will sell and the price will go up."

He may be right.

Despite the sales slowdown, local economists and real estate experts say sale prices should continue to rise this year but at a more moderate rate of 5 percent to 15 percent, compared with 30 percent last year.

In January, the median list price of a single-family home was $699,000, according to the Honolulu Board of Realtors. Last year, the high point for single-family list prices came in October, when the median list price was $698,000.

While sellers continue to list at high prices, the homes aren't moving as fast as they used to and the inventory is growing.

January saw 738 new single-family listings, according to the Honolulu Board of Realtors. The number of new single-family listings in one month topped 700 in August for the first time since the Board of Realtors began keeping records in 1986.

"The inventory has risen considerably," said Bryn Kaufman, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties in Kailua. "The fact that some sellers are starting to reduce prices and accept lower offers is helpful. It started to happen right near the end of last year and it's working its way into this year. A lot of people priced into the upswing in the market and now they're overpriced."

Kaufman designed a Web site, www.oahure.com, that can dissect the Board of Realtors' Multiple Listing Service. Last week, his analysis found 1,030 single-family O'ahu homes that had been on the market 40 days or more. Out of the total, 153 were on the market six months or more.

Out of 1,627 single-family homes for sale, 533 have seen price drops, Kaufman said.

For homes that have been on the market six months or more, the average price was $2.5 million, Kaufman found.

But not all.

Alvin Wong couldn't even remember how long he's had his two houses in Pearl City's Hooli Circle up for sale, although it's been more than six months.

Each house has three bedrooms and two bathrooms and are being offered for a combined $675,000. But Wong doesn't own the land and the leaseholder, Roy Yamanaka, said, "I'm not selling the fee."

Wong, a cook at Palolo Elementary School, has 54 years left on his 99-year lease to Yamanaka. And Wong refuses to drop his sale price for the houses.

"At the time that my brother-in-law sold it to me (in 1985), he said, 'Long lease, no worry. It'll take care of itself,' " Wong said. "If I can sell it, I'll sell it."

Raul and Nancy Dollente don't have the same kind of obvious hurdles keeping their three-bedroom Kapolei home on the market. "I'm not really sure how long we've had it for sale," Raul Dollente said. "Since October? It's been so long already."

The Dollentes originally listed their house at $581,000, "then we dropped it to $579,000, then $565,000," he said. "Now we're going $555,000."

The assessed value is $581,000.

"Somehow it will be sold," Raul Dollente said. "I just don't know when."

Kari Waldhaus isn't as patient.

She and her husband, Jack, bought their three-bedroom, two-bathroom house on Kakoo Place in upper Makakilo in 2004 as a rental home. They invested $5,000 in landscaping, $4,000 to paint the outside and $3,000 for new cabinetry, lighting and wallpaper.

After renting the house for a year and cleaning out the smell of the renters' Great Dane and bulldog, the Waldhauses put their house on the market in October for $549,000.

They had one offer below their asking price that fell through. After that "nothing happened," Kari Waldhaus said. "Then in November we dropped the price to $515,000 and offered a credit back for closing costs. Thirty days later we dropped it to $499,000. We were thinking that getting it under $500,000 would make it sell. We were wrong. Now the house has sat vacant for five months. That house has a negative cash flow. Not fun."

The house and property are assessed at $506,400.

Kari Waldhaus has been happy with the efforts of their real estate agent, who has regularly purchased newspaper ad space showcasing pictures of the house and "staged" it to make it more attractive.

She asked whether she and her husband should invest more money in improvements, but her agent said that would only drive up the sale price or their costs, which they might not recoup.

"I don't know what else he can do," she said. "I think he's doing everything possible in the book."

So the Waldhauses are left with an empty home and the nagging suspicion they missed O'ahu's real estate peak.

"We should have gotten in in July or August when things were flying off the market," Kari Waldhaus said. "I read and pay attention to the market and everybody thought it would be a gradual thing. But it's like somebody flipped a light switch and people stopped buying."

At the same time that single-family homes were sticking around longer, condos remained on the market for only 28 days in January down from the previous median high of 33 days in February 2005.

Shapiro, of the Honolulu Board of Realtors, believes higher prices on single-family homes are driving buyers into the condo market, nudging condos to move relatively quickly by comparison.

Leilani Cunningham, a Realtor associate with Coldwell Banker's Kahala office, believes that sellers can still move single-family houses fast as long as they do their homework and work a little harder.

"There was a point where the market was moving so quickly that you only had to place it on the MLS, stick your sign out and your phone was ringing," Cunningham said. "Now you need a more realistic view of where the market is and you have to price the home correctly from the get-go. You can still get top dollar, versus having your home sit there."

Two weeks ago, she listed a single-family home on Mariner's Ridge in a neighborhood with 11 other houses already for sale. But first, Cunningham compared all of the other homes' prices per square foot and the days that each had been on the market.

While Cunningham figured out that the rest were priced at $600 per square foot, she and the seller listed their house at $540 per square foot.

"The home was on the market for one week and we got an exceptional offer with two back-up offers," Cunningham said. "Those 11 other houses? They're still there."

Advertiser Staff Writer Andrew Gomes contributed to this report. Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8085.

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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