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Working the Housing Market

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By Camas Frank

Back at the start of June San Luis Obispo County’s daily paper, The Tribune, started a series of articles looking at just what homes were available for an estimated median market price of $530,000.

The online source cited for that figure is no longer available, but a quick search of the popular indexing site Zillow placed the new midrange at $660,800. That’s a large gap to be sure, but for the purposes of ongoing discussion the exact number isn’t as important as what one can expect when headed out into the tumultuous waters of homeownership. For those in the Real Estate industry it’s not easy to escape the conversation either, even at a baseball game.

Meet Robert Mariani, principal of the newly launched Mariani Realty; understanding SLO’s market conditions have been part of his gig for 15 years.

After a attending recent San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce membership mixer at a rare Wednesday home game for the SLO Blues (see page 12 of the July 27 SLO City News issue), he indulged this reporter with some follow up questions.

For starters, unless a buyer is a young professional looking for a small condo on the $100,000 to $250,000 side of the market, those median figures are looking pretty standard.

“The dynamic of SLO is that if you already have [access] to the money, you buy bigger,” he explained. “The inventory that is moving is in the $400,000 to $800,000 range.”

And the typical first time buyer he sees as an agent for the seller would be, young adults obtaining loans, “[by] having parents co- sign loans or receiving gift funds or inheritances in addition [to having] good jobs to make it all work.”

That would be because the downpayment is the hardest part for most homebuyers, and after that, $3,000 would be a standard monthly mortgage payment.

Not that Mariani speaks in absolutes, when reflecting on his time working for buyers “it could be that my experience changed being in a different place in my career, which people come to you personally,” but, he said, “We haven’t had the kind of loan problems we used too. In 2005 or 2006 when the market was going crazy, accurate appraisal values were hard to obtain.”

That, he said, affected local banks’ willingness to issue loans against properties and amounts they weren’t sure about.  It’s an issue quite separate from the subprime lending crisis that tanked the national property market and caused economic disaster only a couple years later.

“Yes, SLO is a seller’s market,” he said. “But there’s a stability too in the three percent increase year over year,” he added. “The affordability index is right near the top.”

“We’re six months to a year behind the curve of San Francisco and [Los Angeles],” he said, “We’re not as ‘bad’ as San Francisco.”

He added anecdotally that a friend in charge of hiring for the kitchen of an upscale restaurant in the Bay Area routinely has people skip out on job interviews because no matter how attractive the salary looks on paper, folks will bail when they calculate housing costs to move.

“ I Love SLO,” he said. “We’re in a bubble where people want to stay. Personally, I grew up in the Central Valley… it was either here or Hawaii.”

And, he said, he was kidding about Hawaii.

“Merced, I grew up in Merced,” he said noting, “and they have their own economic issues now, they’re suffering. Almost everyone I know who’s spent time here would rather be here. People that leave want to find a way back.”

That may seem like pretty common knowledge for the region, but it’s worth a mention to explain how he’s sustaining his own niche on the Central Coast.

“As a business, I’d rather deal with people one on one, getting to know the clients,” he said, explaining why he split with previous business partners to set out under his own name. “The uniqueness I can offer is having few clients at any one time, I’m the guy that gets things done or them.”

That’s both more fun, and rewarding than managing a stable of agents. Particularly with a property in escrow, he added, “I’m taking care of all the small things….I assume liability myself.”

To get ahold of Mariani call or text 459-2324.

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