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The September Factor

Amid talk of “plateaus” and “softening,” the real-estate world is watching this month extra closely.

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It’s been a funny sort of summer in the real-estate world, as the July and August doldrums have felt less like the usual quiet and more like the beginning of something bad. Ask Prudential Douglas Elliman broker Lisa Wong, who admits to a little survivor guilt. Though she’s been able to buy and sell properties for a steady trickle of clients—a big difference from the deluge a year or two ago, she does admit—many of her colleagues have found themselves with more time on their hands to agonize over the flattening market. Will it get better? Or worse? “I’ve heard that it’s dead,” she says.

April may be the cruelest month, but many agents say it’s September that’s make-or-break time for them. “It’s a litmus test for what the rest of the year will be like,” says Christopher Mathieson, managing partner at JC DeNiro. “This one’s really important because we want to see if the market’s going to continue to plateau.” And they’re hoping the news is good, given all the pessimism out there. A recent Halstead Property report showed that prices dipped 12 percent from June to July this summer; brokers say August was even more sedate. To make deals stick, “you have to work two or three times harder,” says Wong. “You’re getting lowball offers and calls you’d never get before. For something worth $1.9 million, you’ll get an offer for $1.6, something crazy.” Which explains why many agents look forward to the early fall, when beach homes have been shuttered, kids are back in school, and vacation days are used up. “It’s a renewal,” says Barak Realty’s Catherine Holmes.

Or maybe not. “September is clearly a better gauge than July or August. That being said … brokers are like everybody else. They’re looking for benchmarks. Obviously, if you can create some kind of benchmarking for September [and you reach it], it’s reassuring,” explains Frederick Peters, president of Warburg Realty. But if not, says broker Barbara Fox, it’s no reason to reach for the panic button, either. “We’re coming off the most frenetic market in history, and what we’re seeing now is more normal,” she adds. “This is what people who’ve been in business a while are used to.” Besides, says Mathieson, the calmer market may actually be a blessing. “It can be a little boring,” he says, laughing, “but it’ll give us an opportunity to have a life.”


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