Fuel Fuss Prompts Changes in Realtor Services – NWA, The Morning News

Fuel Fuss Prompts Changes in Realtor Services – NWA, The Morning News
KIM SOUZA • THE MORNING NEWS<br>Tami Fagan, a real estate agent with Cyre-Leike Realty in Fayetteville, drops off listing flyers Friday at an East Fayetteville home. Fagan recently began using her motorcycle to run work-related errands to combat rising gas prices.Photo By: Kim Souza, The Morning News. Tami Fagan, a real estate agent with Cyre-Leike Realty in Fayetteville, drops off listing flyers Friday at an East Fayetteville home. Fagan recently began using her motorcycle to run work-related errands to combat rising gas prices.

Last updated Friday, May 9, 2008 6:11 PM CDT in Business

 

By Kim Souza and Tara Muck

 

The Morning News

 

 

 

A year ago it took about $43 to fill the fuel tank of Realtor Tami Fagan’s Mazda minivan. Fagan is a real estate agent with Crye-Leike Realty in Fayetteville.

 

That cost today is $55 per tank, a 28 percent hike in the last year, according to Fagan, a real estate agent with Crye-Leike Realty in Fayetteville.

 

The Mazda is often parked with Fagan grabbing a helmet and doing some of her work from a motorcycle.

 

“Obviously, I can’t take clients house hunting on the back of my bike, but I do a lot of scouting, previewing, flyer running and business related errands on a daily basis,” Fagan said. “It is doable now that the weather is getting warmer, and though it doesn’t do much for my hair-do, my pocketbook loves it.”

 

She drives about 14,000 miles a year in work-related trips and said the motorcycle will cut her fuel bill by more than half.

 

Jason Smith, broker with Crye-Leike in Springdale, said he too has parked his Land Rover in favor of his motorcycle any time the weather and situations allow. Logging about 20,000 work-related miles annually, for Smith the fuel savings are substantial.

 

Lindsey & Associates agent Christine Cook was ahead of the fuel curve last summer when she traded in her Toyota SUV for a Toyota Prius hybrid.

 

Despite some initial ribbing from colleagues, Cook said during the last year there has been more interest in the Prius than in real estate, at times making her feel more like a car salesman than a home sales professional.

 

These agents admit that lower sales revenue and higher operating costs are prompting changes in the industry.

 

Total sales commissions in 2007 for agents in Northwest Arkansas were an estimated $17.1 million less than in the previous year. In the first three months of 2008, commission are down another $5.5 million.

 

Mike Machak, director of public relations for the Memphis-based Crye-Leike Realty, said across the company’s markets in 12 Southeastern states rising gas prices are having an impact on the way people buy, sell and shop for real estate.

 

“The days of the Realtor playing tour guide are becoming a thing of the past, Machak said. “Some folks are rethinking a move out to the country for more land and lower prices and a buyer must absolutely be pre-qualified before they ever get in an associate’s car.”

 

Austin Bivens, an agent with ReMax Partners in Springdale, said he recently withdrew services from a couple after several weeks of touring the region’s inventory, because they just wanted to play the “looking game”, a drain on both his time and money.

 

Roger Wingert, managing broker at Crye-Leike Realty in Rogers, suggests that customers sit in comfort with a cold drink and see homes via virtual tour on large flat screen monitors in a meeting room at the broker’s office. The buyers can begin the process of elimination, set appointments and then drive to see only the ones they are most interested, Wingert said.

 

That virtual approach is something Realtors in the Fort Smith area advocate, and its something more house hunters are using.

 

“We’re seeing, in general, more and more people doing their searches on the Internet,” said Ken Efurd, vice president of sales for Ron Calhoun & Associates in Fort Smith. “There was a time when 60 percent of all our calls were generated from signs seen while driving around. But we have seen that go way down and Internet inquiries go have gone way up.”

 

EXIT Realty Associates gives potential homebuyers a chance to see virtual tours, said broker and owner Karen LeRosen.

 

“We have visual tours in our office where we can have them look at it before we take them out,” LeRosen said. “A lot of our buyers – 80 percent – shop on the Internet before they ever contact a Realtor.”

 

LeRosen said many buyers get a list of homes from the Multiple Listing Service after reviewing them online and then have their Realtor show them in person. That cuts down on the amount of trips taken to different homes.

 

Another way Realtors are trying to cut down on gas consumption is making sure their clients will be able to secure a loan for particular houses.

 

“Our position is you don’t want to take someone out there if you know they’re not qualified,” said Bill Oberste, executive broker at Kralicek Realty in Fort Smith.

 

Because Realtors are all independent contractors and pay for their own gas and mileage, it’s up to them whether or not they choose to drive as much as they have been. But for many Realtors, it’s just part of the job.

 

Efurd said he keeps tabs on how much he spends on gas since prices started rising but that he hasn’t changed how he sells homes.

 

“I do think about trying to save a trip here and there,” Efurd said. “I know it (gas prices) enters into it, but I haven’t experienced it that much.”

 

Ethan Nobles, director of media relations for the Arkansas Realtors Association in Little Rock, said there has only been talk about the gas prices but not much he’s seen on actions on the part of Realtors.

 

“Gas prices are hurting Realtors just like they’re hurting everyone else,” Nobles said. “It’s something we all have to deal with no matter what we do.”

 

The only positive from rising gas prices that can be seen for the Fort Smith region is that more people who live outside the city are looking to buy inside to be closer to work.

 

Efurd said he had two couples who lived in Poteau and Mansfield looking at homes inside Fort Smith this month to cut down on using more gas than they need to.