Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Attention local realtors: Seize the day!

The looming recession has cast a gloomy gray cloud over our local economy, & the general mood often seems to match the bleak weather outside. This may sound crazy, but I believe that local residents, businesses & real estate professionals should be BENEFITTING from the recent crash in the housing market instead of suffering from it. I would also like to see people who need to sell their homes be able to do so & for our real estate market to stabilize so folks who need to refinance will be able to do so.

What we need is for local realtors to launch a niche marketing campaign to potential home buyers who are currently priced out of the rest of the San Francisco Bay area. They should run advertisements in various niche publications throughout the Bay area (family/parents’ papers, arts ‘zines, & gay publications), which tell people that home ownership is still affordable here & explain why the Russian River is such a great place to live.

There’s no way that this would result in our being overrun by rich, snooty yuppies, because these folks do not share our core values & probably wouldn’t want to live here. I also sincerely doubt that real estate speculators & absentee landlord-types would be terribly interested at this point in time. But if we could entice some potential year-round residents to buy some of the homes currently languishing on the real estate market, it would revitalize our tax base, our economy, & our community as a whole. I also wish that some wealthy benefactor would purchase a bunch of houses & provide low (or zero) down payment, low-interest financing to potential local buyers, but that’s an entirely different subject altogether.

This sort of advertising would also boost the overall reputation of our community. Most people see the Russian River as a summer resort, meth-haven & party place. They don’t know about all of our local amenities & services (excellent schools, low crime rates, friendly neighborhoods, great restaurants, lots of fun local festivals & events, several churches, a lively assortment of organizations & groups, a thriving arts, music & literary scene, & more). Here, it is still affordable & possible to start your own business, have one partner/spouse stay home with the kids, pursue one’s creative dreams, or buy a cheap fixer home & actually have some money left for fixing it up. Even if the ads only attracted a few buyers (which could still amount to some nice chunks of change for the realtors running these advertisements), at least folks “on the outside” won’t wrinkle up their noses & think we’re druggies when we mention that we live here!

We could also attract a new breed of tourist to our area: let’s call it “real estate tourism.” My husband & I lived in San Francisco for 6 years & in Berkeley for 3 years. In these places, real estate is an obsession, which almost amounts to a new sport. When there’s an open house on the block, all of the neighbors attend – whether or not they’re actually planning to buy a home – because they want to see what it’s selling for, how the house compares to theirs, etc. Since many people with decent credit & good incomes can’t even come close to affording to purchase a home in the Bay Area, they often fantasize about moving elsewhere. My husband & I spent YEARS coming out here on holidays & weekends looking at houses, drooling over how cute & affordable they were, & wondering how we could pull it off before we finally took the plunge & plunked ourselves down here. During these holidays & weekends – year ‘round, regardless of the season or the weather – we spent money on local hotels, restaurants & shops.

Now that we’re here, we pay property taxes, buy local goods & services, are active in the community, & volunteer in our daughter’s school. Sure, my husband has a long commute, but we manage to make it work, & we know a lot of people who drive just as far to live in places that aren’t even half as beautiful & livable as our little community here on the Russian River.

I know that launching a niche marketing real estate campaign sounds totally crazy ... Then again, so is continuing to advertise real estate the same way as during the boom.

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