Monday, August 18, 2008

Interview: Jim Duncan, RE Agent & REALCentralVA Blogger

It seems everybody in Charlottesville/Albemarle has heard of RE Agent Jim Duncan, of Century 21 Manley. And a big reason is his blog, REALCentralVA. Not only does the blog cover buying and selling property in the Charlottesville/Albemarle area, but it also covers Green and EcoBuilding issues, local politics, area housing developments, road issues, state government, UVA has a level of transparency about the RE industry not seen on many blogs. Additionally, a frequent theme on the blog (lately) has been the uses and values of blogging. And did you know Jim Duncan was one of the first 50 RE bloggers in the nation?

We're the Bubble Blog, yes, but we're not anti-Realtor. We're anti-Bubble. There's a vital need for expert realtors (we've said this before here, and on other blogs), especially in this rapidly-changing, complicated market and economy. A good realtor, in our humble opinion, is someone who takes into consideration not just the profit aspects of helping people to buy or sell what is typically the largest purchase of their lives, but also someone who knows that owning a house conveys with it other elements: a sense of community, a sense of responsibility, a sense of security, and that in the current market, and for several years to come, these intangibles may be more important than large profits.

We're not alone in thinking that Jim Duncan achieves this. Recently, C'ville, in The Best of C'ville 2008, said of him: " is a must-read for anyone who wants to make sense of the chilling local market."

This post comes as a reciprocal interview: he hit us up, we hit him back. At the bottom of that interview, we noticed a disclaimer. Which made us laugh, as we've received emails suggesting the same thing: that Jim is the Bubble Blogger. Hey--Thanks for the compliment! But that would mean he blogged in his sleep....

A note on the following text. We bolded the hyperlinks. Where we emphasized something that Jim didn't emphasize, we included a note. Thanks to Jim for taking the time to do this. It's surely a good use of blogging as a tool.

What's your background, and what led you to RE?

I have a BA in English from the Virginia Military Institute, Class of 1998. I've been a Realtor for just about seven years. I play adult soccer, coached my older daughter for nearly seven years and enjoy reading about and being aware of current events, primarily political and economic. Technology has always intruiged me. I enjoy speaking about and educating others on the benefits of real estate blogging. I'm a real estate (and real estate blog) dork; it's taken me a while to come to terms with this fact (my wife picked up on it pretty quickly) and I'm ok with it.

What led me to RE is simple - it's in my blood. I was planning on making the move to real estate in 2001 - I'm a multi-generational real estate agent - when I was laid off from a local tech company. There's nothing like unemployment to motivate. My first home inspection was on 9/11/2001 -- a day I'll never forget.

We've read on your blog that your mom is an agent. Are you in the same company? How did she inspire you?

My mother is a Realtor with the same company - Century 21 Manley - and has been an active Realtor for most of my life. My dad is a Realtor in Culpeper and I tell people I've been doing real estate since before my voice changed; I used to answer the phone in my parents' office. Mom inspired me in simple ways - work ethic, do whatever it takes (ethically) to do what is best for the client and to not miss my kids' games (she rarely missed one of my games) and she reinforced things I already knew - honor and reputation are paramount and non-negotiable. She was and is a mentor, someone to whom I ask the "dumb questions" ... "Mom, will I get sued if I ...., what if I ... does this clause sound right ..." I honestly do not know how anybody can make it in this business without having someone of whom to ask those "dumb questions".

I genuinely love what I do and am passionate about all things real estate - learning, representing clients, teaching, listening - and I hope it shows in all that I do.

When did you start your blog? What was the inspiration? How did you choose your particular format? Care to comment on technology as a selling tool?

I started my blog in January of 2005 and was one of the first fifty real estate bloggers in the country [BB emphasis]. The inspiration was simple - I saw a void in the local media for candid commentary from the perspective of someone who lives and breathes real estate. The format evolved and is constantly evolving (I'm due to break my design/format now) ... I started on a free, very basic platform and made the move to Wordpress in March of '05.

Technology in and of itself cannot sell anything; how it's applied can help the process. In my world, my blog serves as a passive marketing tool and was never intended to be a selling tool (or advertising). First and foremost, my blog is a tool that I use to educate myself, store my thoughts and opinions, and use as a resource for my readers.

I tend to join as many social networks as I can just to ensure that if it does catch on, I will have secured the "JimDuncan" username. Among the most productive networks for me have been LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. People want to know more about people whom they might hire before they contact them; I Google most people I meet and I tend to Google phone numbers as well. Being able to say with confidence Google me is a pretty powerful thing and reassuring to potential clients that they know "who I am" before they meet me.

In a related question: how many blogs do you read per day, trade sites, newspapers? On how many other people's blogs do you regularly comment, or regularly actually do a post?

I scan about 100+ real estate blogs, 100+ local blogs and about 20 nationally focused economics blogs. I tend to comment on about 15-30 blogs with regularity.

I used to write on the Bloodhound Blog and currently write at
Agent Genius, a national real estate blog/magazine. I contribute occasionally at the Virginia Association of Realtors' blog, VARBuzz. I also write RealCrozetVA - a hyper-local blog focused solely on Crozet. I started it in September of 2005 as a forum for Crozetians - again to fill a void in the space.

The real estate blogs I read are here and the Charlottesville blogs are here in OMPL format (for importing into a feed reader).

Part of the value I bring to client representation is knowing where to find information for my clients. Reading more than they do is part of this. I'm very comfortable saying "I don't know ... but I'll find out."

In a recent market report, you had a line about having said for the past 9-18 months that the recovery is 9-18 months away. You yourself seemed surprised that you'd been saying recovery would be soon for so long. What's your best guess now? And based on what?

I'm sticking by my prediction of 9-18 months, and reserve the right to shift that as needed. There are just so many factors affecting the market right now - high levels of inventory, the "shadow inventory", credit "crisis", fuel and staple costs, fear ... that getting a handle on what is happening and when the recovery will come is seemingly impossible. I think that the truth lies somewhere between Nouriel Roubini and the NAR [National Association of Realtors- BB], and possibly trending closer to Prof. Roubini.

I think that there is a good chance we may look back at the charts of the 3rd and 4th Quarters of 2008 and say "There! That's when we should have bought!" A commenter recently asked (and I've neglected to answer - sorry -) how much more I think that City of Charlottesville properties will decline. My answer - not too much more (I think) - building permits are down, new construction inventory is starting to be burned through, but we still haven't seen the full shakeout of the builders and Realtors; until this happens (and until we have hindsight) I don't think we'll be able to call a "bottom".

All that being said, right now there seems to be a real increase in qualified buyer activity - buyers are more qualified and better able to both make the decision to purchase and afford that decision. Almost to a person, my buyer clients recognize that today is an extraordinary time to buy - rates are low, many sellers are motivated, and prices are good. It's the prices and the stubborn sellers that have yet to fully give; but many are giving in to reality. [BB's emphasis] My clients also tend to be buying for now-realistic timeframes - at least five years and often for far longer. This qualifies as a *very* good thing.

You seem to be the media go-to guy in C'ville. How did this happen?

Luck, timing and I'd like to think that the media and readers find value in my expertise and candid analysis of the market. I answer calls from the media and give honest answers, and thank them when they call me. I respect the work that they do and in turn like to think that they respect what I have to offer. All media are seeking content and expertise; I try to offer both. I'm actually talking about this next month at RE Blog World in Las Vegas [BB: Are Bubble Bloggers invited?]. I think that my candor is part of what they (and my clients) seek.

Have you had any foreclosure sales? Anything "tricky" about them (for instance, hidden liens, etc.)

None yet, although I have been able to negotiate with lenders in two recent transactions to help forestall impending foreclosure prior to us - the Realtors, buyers and sellers - being able to do what we have to do. I have heard several instances of Realtors who describe the process as eminently frustrating as the lenders don't seem prepared or interested in doing what is right - either for their own bottom lines or for those of the buyers or sellers/owners.

The trickiest thing about them may be *finding them* - there is not an efficient and comprehensive way to search for either foreclosures or short-sales. In fact, many of the lenders state explicitly that the property is not to be marketed as either a foreclosure or short sale. But there are "code words" that can help ferret them out. [BB: We've seen only two (2) properties recently on the MLS which explicitly state that they are "Foreclosures" and sold "As Is." And even services such as RealtyTrac, which has a monthly fee, don't always have the same info as the local papers--and vice versa.]

In a related question, are you concerned about Alt-A resets/defaults/foreclosures in our area, based upon the NYFed's map of loans?

I'm a bit concerned, (and would be lying/blind if I said I wasn't) as I don't think our region has yet seen the full brunt of the short-term ARMS or the Alt-A resets/defaults/foreclosures. That being said, I don't see us being like Prince William, Loudoun, Miami or any of the other foreclosure hotspots. I've written about foreclosures in the Charlottesville area a few times - February, April , and May of this year. The February foreclosure story is notable for the comments.

Jim asked the Bubble Blog this question, so we handed it back: If you had a magic wand for housing/the economy, what would you change?

I'd take out some of the irrational exhuberance/froth/whatever you want to call it. The expectations of buyers and sellers are what concerned me the most. I knew something was amiss when clients called me and told me that they wanted to sell ... and if they couldn't *clear* $80k (a 50% return in 25 months) then they couldn't/wouldn't sell [BB emphasis]. That was the clearest sign that something was "wrong".

The fact that nearly 70% of the loans in Virginia are "low or no-documentation" is certainly cause for a pause, but without being able to localize that for the Central Virginia region, it's just a number without appropriate context. [BB emphasis; the Fed's map doesn't allow such specific info at this point.]

I'd get people to value homes' intrinsic values more than the immediate financial values; I'd reduce the amount of fraud and unhealthy greed in the market. I'd have those writing the loans accept some risk for their loans - something that was dramatically missing from the "boom" years.

On a much lighter note, you must certainly know every neighborhood in C'ville and the County. What three places or things are there that surprise or please you?

What surprises me is that I'm constantly surprised. There remain nooks and crannies of the City and County that remain hidden and under the radar. The sheer volume of "stuff" to do is stunning. From Live Arts to the Paramount to JPJ to the Pavilion to ... there is so much to do and see that it amazes me that our community is able to support so many activities and venues and there seems to be more demand out there.

Gardens - as I've taken to riding my bike around Charlottesville , I have noticed more gardens in more yards - front and back - than I ever have before. I don't know if this is in response to gas prices, more socially-conscious people or just something I've never noticed before, but there seem to be gardens everywhere (and lots of tomatoes!) I'm also fond of the number of CSA's and farmers markets we have.

What would you like to say to potential sellers? To potential buyers?

I have found that usually the brand of the Realtor doesn't matter.

To sellers - be patient and realistic. Seriously assess whether selling right now is the best option. If you are going to sell, price your home aggressively after looking at the active and under contract comparable properties. Seek professional advice, if only to provide the emotional and psychological detachment that is necessary to make a logical, honest assessment.

To buyers - be patient, but be ready, willing and able to pull the trigger when you find a house that fits. Focus on what your needs are and have your list of wants a close second. If you're going to buy, try to make sure that you will be here for at least three to five years, if not longer. Read. Educate yourselves. Ask questions. Choose a great buyer's agent whom you can and do trust. Negotiate reasonably and have realistic expectations.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Just that I'm grateful every day for the opportunities I have, for my wife and family for tolerating me, and for the people who make my site what it is - the commenters who give their time, energy and expertise.


Realty Rider said...

The main difference between a realtor and a real estate agent is credentials. People use the terms REALTOR® and real estate agent interchangeably, but that is incorrect. There are differences between REALTORS® and real estate agents. They are not the same. Although both are licensed to sell real estate, the basic difference between a real estate agent and a REALTOR® .As such, the main difference that you hear a lot about -- but are likely confused about -- is that a REALTOR® must subscribe to the REALTOR® Code of Ethics. But what does this mean to a consumer? A realtor has more training and experience in the real estate market than does a real estate agent. Where both a realtor and real estate agent have licenses, the realtor has gone the extra mile in obtaining a further level of expertise in their professions. Realtors® follow a code of ethics and typically receive many helpful tools from the Association including a legal hotline and official contracts to write offers. When you hire a real estate agent you are essentially hiring the brokerage. The broker is your agent and his salespersons are his agents. So when you go out looking at homes with a salesperson, you are essentially dealing with your agent’s agent. However, usually everyone down the line is a Realtor® because every agent in that company is a member of the Association of Realtors®.For more view-

Montpellier said...

So, where do these REALTOR trolls come from with this constant "Code of Ethics" drumbeat? Even the head of our local board seems to have given up with this tired line - does have a comment bot?

That said - Jim Duncan does seem to be a plain dealer. Kudos to him. I hope he survives the shakeout...

Speaking of which, and of Jim's commentary on Foreclosures - Holy Jungian Synchronicity Batman! (or is it just serendipity?) - I gleefully note another foreclosure in my favorite Option-ARM neighborhood: Glenmore - the ultimate in Nouveau-Riche Conspicuous Consumption! In this case, the schadenfreude is extra tasty, because this sad misfortune is visited upon someone else "pursuing the career [schtick] of helping house [fleece] God’s people."

Ever since Diana penned it, that line has been rattling around in my brain - I think there must be a corollary to Mencken's "patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels", substituting religion for patriotism and crooks for scoundrels. Upon reflection, I realize no corollary is necessary since the substitutions really only involve synonyms. In any case, I note these poor martyrs to the cause appear to have been shaken out - all the way out of town - and are a couple more tics on Jim's departing REALTOR watch. I've been amused to see the profiteers of this mess disproportionately (well, maybe not) represented in the foreclosure statistics.

While I admire much Jim has to say, and read his blog as often as this one, we are nowhere near the 9-18 month mark here, and while the center of our "Metro" area - C'ville proper - will not decline as much as further out - prices have a ways to fall here.

It is precisely the coming wave of Option-ARM resets which will keep things falling. The "accidental landlord" series perfectly illustrates the reason: even if the current owners can manage to keep current on payments - unlikely given the rental market - Jumbo financing is jammed up. These same properties sold - and quickly - during the bubble - if they really were economically viable at these prices, well, the market would be flat, not stalled. Moreover, wages remain flat - which means that there simply aren't enough buyers who qualify under semi-rigid (flaccid? No, let's stick with Jung and leave Freud out of it) FHA guidelines to absorb the inventory at current price levels.

Real C'ville - The Bubble Blog said...

1. "People use the terms REALTOR and real estate agent interchangeably, but that is incorrect."

realty rider,

It's only "incorrect" to professionals. To "people," it's a matter of semantics. We're "people" here on the blog, as are many of our readers--including those who may be REALTORS or real estate agents.

2. When Montpellier invokes the name and quotation from Diana, he's referring to the final comment and commenter from our "Mid-Year Market Retort," which may be accessed here:

gtrplyr said...

I started going over to jim duncan's blog b/c he was mentioned here. I wasn't that interested in local real estate until I saw the cvillain interview. It always seemed like a house would be out of reach. I thought it was because I'm young and don't have a career yet. I'm doing the 20's musician thing (well ok I'm 31). But even if I did have a career I still couldn't get a house in c'ville. This blog has made me see what a huge money issue there is surrounding property. But on top of it, my view of real estate types wasn't good. they seemed like slick liars. Since I've been going to Jim's blog this idea has totally changed. It's a good read and has great links. Cool that he's on this blog.

Anonymous said...

realty rider is not doing the professionals any good.

jim duncan is.

brooklyn bob said...

the Option ARM and Alt-A issues are frightening, to say the lease.

because there are so many Alt-As that are and will be going into foreclosure, the fannie/freddie bailout is a sure thing.

will we go from recession to depression? probably not. we'll probably go to war with russia. that always averts a depression.