Q&A with Local Leaders in Real Estate
We hear about people downsizing the size of their homes. What trends are you seeing within segments of the market?
Pepine: The bulk of our sales are in the 1,500 to 3,000 square-footage range. I’m not seeing the demand there that I used to see in the much larger homes.
McIntosh: We’ve been seeing smaller lot sizes since the recession. Development has been harder, and people were trying to be efficient in maximizing the number of lots. Live, work and play communities are especially appealing to a surprising number of people who live here but actually earn money somewhere else. I think we have a lot of people who are semi-retired or are consultants who like living in Tioga or Haile Plantation. I’ve run into several folks who get on a plane and fly out to some other place during the week and come back for the weekend. They want to be in Gainesville because of the quality of life Gainesville has. They love the amenities of the University of Florida, including the sports teams and the intellectual pursuits.
Pepine: I agree. I was at the airport recently, and a whole contingency was flying out on a Sunday and they said they do this route every week. And I have a client in Haile who lives in Philadelphia and has done that for over 15 years, flying home every Thursday.
Do you see changes in the age of people living in Greater Gainesville?
McIntosh: This is a hard town to be just graduating from college and single, but it seems like people graduate, go away, get married, and decide they want to come back and raise their families here.
Pepine: That’s exactly what I did. Can you compare the types of buyers who want to be close to downtown and the UF campus to those interested in being farther out and in small towns?
McIntosh: We have more diversity going on with our buyers than we’ve had in a long time and one of the reasons is there are lots of choices. Unless you are really paying attention, you don’t realize how much neighborhoods in the urban core are transitioning. All you have to do is look around the Innovation Square site and you see all kinds of beautiful, rental multi-family housing being built there. The neighborhood behind the Main Street Publix, between Eighth Avenue and 16th Avenue is transitioning. Folks are wanting to come back.
As a community, we have done a good job at trying to focus on the different types of jobs we want to create, and we have delivered. Once those folks are here and working, the next question is, where do they live?
Pepine: What we see is that if you have a job at the Progress Center in Alachua High Grounds, people like to be in close proximity to their job. People who have livestock and horses and need those large parcels tend to move out that way. People who don’t like HOAs and want privacy and to be left alone tend to be seeking out rural properties. The people we see who really want to be in the heart of downtown tend to be ones who don’t have children – whether they are millennials or empty nesters – including dual-income empty nesters who are affiliated with the university. And then we’re seeing more urban sprawl in those neighborhoods, like behind [the Main Street] Publix, where families are now moving back in, which is really nice to see. So that’s kind of how I see people wanting to live really close to central Gainesville and then people living out in the suburbs.
Arvin: I agree with Betsy. A lot of people are moving to the outside areas, even on the outskirts around SR-241. It used to be that was too far out, and now it’s the middle ground for a lot of people. A lot of the people that are moving out that way are trying to get away from the HOA rules. They’re getting more space in their homes, and those neighborhoods have more land to them compared to places like Tioga or Oakmont. You’re close to a lot of green space.
Pepine: A lot of people who are more cost-conscious. You get more [for your] money and you have lower taxes and utility bills. People who are more cost-conscious may start looking in Gainesville, then sometimes migrate into those surrounding areas because they find more value there. McIntosh: There’s one more thing out there – the farm-to-table movement that goes on in the restaurants. The same folks who frequent those restaurants sometimes want to be able to grow their own vegetables. I’ve even run into folks who want to be able to raise chickens. Lifestyle choices sometimes force people to make those decisions. Even one acre is considered to be a lot of space.
What upgrades that were once considered luxuries are now becoming standard?
Arvin: The basics now include granite on the standard basic homes in the $200s. That used to be an upgrade on pretty much any house. Things like stainless steel appliances [and] soft-close kitchen cabinets are pretty much standard in every single house. [There are] ceiling fans and a lot of molding in all the common areas. Even tile on bathrooms. In the lower-end houses, it used to be they gave you pre-fab tubs. Now they give you tile. More upgrades became common coming out of that downturn. Builders were like, “How do I get my houses to be sold?” When buyers first walk in, they want the HGTV look.
Pepine: I think HGTV actually helped us work with sellers. You can tell when you walk in the homes of sellers who have followed suggestions from HGTV. Those homes are ready to be sold, and that’s been lovely. You don’t have to go in and educate these sellers on how a house should be presented to make it ready for sale.
McIntosh: The other thing that has really changed in the last couple of years is the energy efficiency of the homes. The HVAC systems are pretty energy-efficient.
Arvin: Same thing with tank-less hot water heaters, which are pretty much standard now.
Are buyers putting more emphasis on decks, patios and other types of outdoor space?
Pepine: I don’t see decks prevalent, but you definitely see patios. Buyers are willing to sacrifice some indoor square footage to get outdoor-entertaining square footage. People are wanting lanais, full summer kitchens, fire pits and several outdoor seating arrangements, especially in the upper price points.
Arvin: I’ve seen a lot of people, especially older customers who are coming into town, who want screened porches, even ones that are not covered. I’ve had a lot of buyers negotiate to get it screened in. I don’t know if it’s because they are used to it, coming from South Florida or from up North, but a lot of people have been asking for it. They want it incorporated so it is easy to go off the kitchen or off the living room to it — it’s an extension of the living room. They want sitting areas out there. If they’re entertaining, the doors are open and they’re coming back and forth.
McIntosh: What we’re talking about has a lot to do with the price range of the property, and it is a whole lot more prevalent in the upper end. The folks with the starter homes realize that they can probably build that and add it on as long as they have the footprint of the house the way they want it.
How much are buyers doing their own research on the internet compared to relying on realtors for information?
Pepine: It’s one of the first things we ask: “How do you like to communicate and with what frequency?” There’s really no standard; everyone is different.
McIntosh: According to the survey of home buyers and sellers by the National Association of Realtors, we’re up to about 82 percent of people using the internet in their research. Any question that crosses their mind, they pull out their mobile device and start asking questions.
Arvin: I think it’s going both ways. You either have people that are really tech and mobile savvy, or you have people who want more of a customer relationship. It’s one way or the other. You have some people who will do an entire contract by text, and I don’t ever talk to them. Then you’ll have the people who want to sit down and talk to you [and ask] a lot of questions in between.
Why are realtors valuable to buyers and sellers?
Arvin: I think you’re always in need of a realtor because they have the pulse of the communities in general, and what has happened in the past with the community. You can’t tell [the] neighborhoods that have more clay or settling problems, or a neighborhood that’s had sinkholes, high radon. Those are things that don’t show up on your mobile devices. Most realtors know. They will say, “If you want this neighborhood, let’s have a radon test.” Or [they] can say, “Three houses down, that house had a sinkhole. Two houses down, they had a sinkhole or clay issues.”
McIntosh: The realtor is not going to tell you buy or don’t buy; it’s not the realtor’s decision. But the realtor is able to help you if there are areas of town where the realtor has had experience of issues with either the property or the neighborhood. They can help nudge the buyer by saying, “This is a great neighborhood, and if you buy here, let’s check this out and see if there’s something that needs to be mitigated, let’s negotiate it on the front end.”
Pepine: I think the biggest area [in which] the internet has changed our job is that, more common than not, a buyer already has a list of homes that they think they want to go see. We didn’t see that eight years ago. I don’t think we will ever be replaced because there is so much knowledge that we have of the community, and of the neighborhoods, and of the schools, and being integrated in here. It would be very difficult for them to find that elsewhere. It put pressure on us to make sure we’re creating value. How do we make their transition into our community more seamless? How do we make sure that they’ve adjusted?
You look at the role of the realtor as more expanded into being a relocation specialist or assimilating the family into the community as opposed to just finding them their ideal home. I’ve held group parties with people that I feel are of similar interests [as] my clients so that when they come into town they already have a network of people they know. I’ve organized tennis matches with their kids because they play tennis and they want to know other kids who play tennis. We are often giving references for doctors. They’re calling us for things so much outside of housing. And we want that.
We want them to think of us as the first ones to call. I had a school call me once and ask me about a client’s child, and it took me a minute to understand that she had put me down as the emergency contact for her daughter at her daughter’s school. I was so honored that she felt that we had that kind of relationship.
Arvin: Customers say things like, “I need a good daycare.” I respond, “What kind of daycare do you like? Do you like more hands-on daycares, more teaching daycare? Do you want daycare that does hourly vs. weekly?” You still know the neighborhoods, but you’re more their one-stop resource, which is what you need to be as a realtor.
Get in Touch with Our Featured Realtors
Scott Arvin of Matchmaker Realty
3947 W Newberry Road
Gainesville, FL 32607
Thomas McIntosh of Berkshire
Hathaway Trend Realty
4141 NW 37th Place
Gainesville, FL 32606
Betsy Pepine of Pepine Realty
4041 NW 37th Place, Ste. B
Gainesville, FL 32606