Like elsewhere in the U.S., Clatsop County's once red-hot housing market has gone cold.

The days of an owner getting premium dollar for that small, nondescript, older bungalow just because it's within a mile or two of the water are over.

Now, buyers - when they can be found - have the upper hand in negotiations for home purchases. And property prices, which once soared into the stratosphere, have spiraled quickly back to Earth.

"The local market has definitely changed," said Linda Stephens, a broker for Area Properties in Astoria. "We're not able to sell much over $300,000. And (sales of) homes over $200,000 seem to have slowed down."

It wasn't so long ago that Oregon's North Coast was one of the state's hottest real estate markets.

"Back in 2005 and 2006, a home could be on the market one day, get multiple offers and sell that same day. It was a real frenzy," Stephens recalled.

Even in a "decent" market, the average length of time for a home to be on the market was between 60 and 120 days. Today, with an overstock of new and older homes, coupled with a tightening of the mortgage market, the average length of time for a property to sell is 6 to 12 months, she said.

Not only are these difficult times for home sellers, but they pose challenges to real estate professionals, as well, observed Deb Bowe, a broker with Windermere Pacific Land Company in Astoria.

"We need to better educate the buyer and seller about the market conditions," Bowe said.

"It's hard for a seller to understand why the value of their home has dropped since 2002," she said.

Pam Ackley, a broker with Coldwell Banker Kent Price Realty Inc. in Seaside, noted that even with prices for existing homes down about 15 percent, it's only a fraction of the skyrocketing appreciation — as much as 60 percent - most homes saw during the 2005-2006 local real estate boom. That means many owners still can get a good return on their investment even if they have to sell for a little less than they would have liked.

"We're still a lot better off than many other areas that are seeing home prices drop below what owners originally paid" for the property, Ackley said.

Another bright spot for the local real estate market is the small percentage of foreclosed properties.

Kent Easom, principal broker with Windermere Pacific Land Co., said foreclosures represent "less than 1 percent" of homes for sale in Clatsop County.

That's good news for private sellers, since having large numbers of foreclosed homes with their depressed prices flooding the market can have a negative impact on prices for all homes.

Because there are fewer prospective buyers, owners can expect to put more work into preparing their homes for sale.

"Buyers are becoming less flexible" when it comes to negotiations, Easom observed. "They want the seller to do any repairs."

He advises owners to hire a professional home inspector to identify problems or potential troubles before putting the property on the market. "It gives the owner the advantage of knowing what condition their home is in and to have any problems taken care of".

Bowe encourages owners to consult a Realtor when they begin seriously thinking about selling their home.

"A Realtor can help you understand the market and make sure you're not overpriced, and that it's staged right" for prospective buyers to view, she said. "Your real estate agent is your ambassador."

'Less is more' when preparing a home for sale

With more homes on the market and fewer buyers, Clatsop County real estate professionals say it's now more important than ever to pay attention to the smallest details when getting ready to showcase your home.

Here are a few suggestions for getting your home market-ready:

• Curb appeal: First impressions are important. Make sure your lawn is freshly mowed, plants are manicured and children's bicycles and toys are removed from the yard. A new coat of paint can perk up a drab looking home exterior.

• Less is more: Remove the clutter. Put away the family photos, heirlooms and knickknacks. Recycle the piles of magazines and newspapers. Clean out the garage. Rent a storage unit for those boxes of keepsakes, tools and other possessions you don't use every day.

• The nose knows: Make sure your home smells fresh. Smells from animals, stale smoke and last night's burnt dinner can be real turnoffs.

• Tidy and clean: Make sure carpets and couches are vacuumed, tables and chairs dusted, cobwebs removed and kitchen counters sparkle.

• Be prepared: Have your home ready for showing on a moment's notice.

• Vacate: While your house is being shown, take the family to the coffee shop, mall or to a movie. Leave it to your agent to handle the tour.

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