Pleasanton Weekly

Column - March 19, 2010

Selling real estate: Good if you can do it

by Jeb Bing

If you're thinking about buying or selling a house in Pleasanton or refinancing one, do it now. That's the advice of Mike Peel, the broker in charge of Hometown GMAC Real Estate and one of the area's longest-serving and most respected real estate executives. Peel's been selling real estate here since 1975 when he joined Osborne Realty, which was located where Straw Hat Pizza now does business off Hopyard Road. In 1978, with several partners, Peel bought the agency from Larry Osborne, renamed it Hometown, and eventually moved the agency to its highly visible office on First Street just north of Bernal Avenue. It's often the first real estate agency newcomers see when they come to Pleasanton.

Now the agency is closing, another victim of tight credit that makes money too costly if it's even available from banks and other lenders.

Peel has sold real estate in good times and bad, but he finds the current market slump the worst he's seen. Before, the down-market was caused by oversupply or a recession with few buyers, but it always rebounded. Today, it's a credit problem with simply no funds available even for those with long-term records of credit worthiness. Those who have enough equity in their homes or cash in hand can still find mortgages and at low single digit rates that are the best in decades. But Peel is finding few prospective buyers in that category with too many agents chasing them. Of the 600 homes sold here last year, there were 835 agents competing to be the seller's agent or the buyer's agent. That averaged out to 1-1/4 transactions a year, hardly enough to pay the grocery bill. Both the number of agents still in the business and the number of homes for sale this year have dropped considerably, along with the selling prices.

Eyeing the record-high federal debt, Peel cites the added burden ahead of the proposed health care plan and the cap and trade regulations that could stymie business investment as warnng signs that mortgage interest rates will soon start to climb. When that happens, even the slight turn-around now under way could end with mortgage money costing more even if individual loans become available. That may change in a year or two as the market readjusts, but late 2010 or early 2011 look troubling, Peel says. An added unknown is what this week's court ruling invalidating Pleasanton's housing cap will mean in the market. This remains a desirable community for builders and prospective buyers and the elimination of the 29,000-housing unit ban could spur more growth here to offset the market restraints Peel sees.

Peel, who is 67, said Pleasanton had a population of about 21,000 when he became a Realtor. A native of the city of Alameda and a graduate of Alameda High School, he was superintendent of quality control for International Harvester's west coast truck manufacturing plant in San Leandro until it closed in 1975. He was also a project design engineer for the company's cab-over truck models. Lacking a college degree, he said it was fortunate he was at International Harvester in the troubling times, which meant he had ongoing, up-the-ladder promotions. Although offered a promotion when the company consolidated its operations in Fort Wayne, Ind., his "good times" as a non-degreed manager were likely over and he chose to stay here, studying for a real estate license instead.

Selling real estate is tough, especially at the beginning. Peel says a new Realtor can expect to work 60 hour weeks for the first three years, making cold calls and knocking on doors after exhausting the list of friends, relatives and neighbors who might become clients. Although still advocating real estate as a career even in the worst of times, Peel says it's more than the market downtown and stressful hours that have made the job more difficult. When he first became a Realtor, a purchase agreement consisted of a single page. Today, it's up to eight pages for the contract with disclosure forms to review now numbering 50 to 60 pages, all potential liabilities for the agent if there's a mistake. Still, a real estate career has its advantages. Agents are independent contractors for the broker/firm they're with, can work whatever hours they wish and are free to pack up and move with a 30 day notice to another real estate firm, taking all of their client listings with them. It beats making widgets, Peel says, if you're good at it.

Peel is married to Darlene Crane, also a Realtor at Hometown. The couple has five children.

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