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Las Vegas houses selling faster than ever, and Realtors feel the pressure

Updated April 19, 2021 - 6:11 pm

As swarms of people try to buy homes in Las Vegas, real estate agent Shawn Cunningham has a method for showing properties to house hunters who don’t live here.

He walks through a home while taking a video, giving people a virtual tour in lieu of a real one before they decide whether to make an offer on a house they’ve never stepped inside.

Cunningham, of RE/MAX Advantage, said he has been doing this for years. He wants buyers to have a full understanding of a home, he said, adding that nowadays, they need to act fast.

“You don’t have time to think for a day or two,” he said.

Southern Nevada’s housing market has been on a monthslong hot streak despite the pandemic’s crushing effect on the economy and keeps accelerating, making it a ripe time for Cunningham and others to sell homes. At least in theory.

Sales totals have shot past year-ago levels, and prices are setting record highs, giving agents lucrative deals from which to reap commissions.

But the tally of available homes for sale has plunged, and more people are looking to become real estate agents. With plenty of buyers showing up, some homebuilders have slashed commissions for agents who bring in clients, and salespeople who work with buyers are having a hard time closing deals as homes get flooded with offers, industry pros said.

“You’re not making the same money you would in a normal market,” said broker Aldo Martinez, president of trade association Las Vegas Realtors.

Urban Nest Realty agent Christina Chipman said that some salespeople are very busy and that the market is lucrative for them.

But some agents face steep competition, including those who work heavily with buyers or agents who are just starting out or figure they can sell homes as a side gig, according to Chipman.

If an agent doesn’t know how to compete or to get clients’ offers accepted, she said, they will be “chewed up and spit out.”

Listed Friday, sold Monday

Southern Nevada’s housing market was hit with turbulence when the pandemic upended daily life last March. But the market regained its footing and heated up despite the pandemic’s devastating effect on tourism, the foundation of Las Vegas’ casino-heavy economy.

Low borrowing costs have provided much of the fuel by letting people — at least who can still afford to buy a place — lock in lower monthly payments and stretch their budgets. The market has also received a boost from out-of-state buyers, who can often get a bigger, less expensive home in Southern Nevada.

People from California, a longtime source of newcomers to Las Vegas, seem to be buying more houses than usual in the valley, in many cases with cash, as shuttered offices let people work from home without a commute, real estate sources say.

Only around 1,770 single-family homes were on the resale market without offers at the end of March, down nearly 69 percent from a year earlier, Las Vegas Realtors reported.

Realty One Group sales manager Tim Kelly Kiernan said that he has never seen inventory drop this low in his 13 years selling homes and that listing agents are doing well right now, as homes are getting multiple offers and selling fast.

Buyers, however, face more frustration.

Steve Howell, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Nevada Properties, said he has a husband and wife relocating from Northern California to be closer to the husband’s elderly parents in Las Vegas. With limited inventory, they’ve been unable to find a house.

According to Howell, agents and their clients need to act fast, or else listings will be gone.

“When a house hits the market, oftentimes you have to go see it that day. … It’s not unusual to hear a house go on the market on Friday, and by Monday, it’s in escrow,” he said.

‘A waiting game’

As inventory dwindles, many buyers are looking to get a place from homebuilders, but that can be no easy task today. Builders have been putting buyers on waiting lists and taking bids for lots, and at least one builder, KB Home, has been holding lotteries to pick who gets to purchase a house, according to industry sources.

A KB spokesman has said that at some of the builder’s communities where fewer lots remain available and “demand greatly exceeds supply, we sometimes hold drawings to select a homebuyer from among those interested, as we believe this is a fair and equitable way to proceed.”

Agents and brokers also say that some homebuilders in the valley have reduced agents’ commissions or are offering flat fees.

According to Kiernan, builders lower these payments when the market accelerates and plenty of walk-in traffic shows up without agents’ help, but when the market slows at some point, he figures the payouts will climb back.

“We just know it’s a waiting game,” he said.

People also typically pile in to become real estate agents when housing is hot, and today is no different.

“We’ve had a half-dozen schoolteachers who have gotten off to a great start,” Kiernan said.

Debbie Zois, owner of Las Vegas Real Estate Training Center, said that her school has seen a surge of new students, estimating a 30 percent to 35 percent increase last year, and with many Nevadans out of work, plenty are thinking about getting into real estate.

She said new students are “blitzing” through the program, which requires 90 hours of education, in a couple of weeks, as opposed to chipping away at it over the course of several months.

But Zois pointed out it’s a tough time to be a new agent, adding that after 34 years in the business she has never seen homes sell so quickly in Las Vegas.

“This is kind of a frantic business right now,” she said. “It’s almost not as fun as it typically is because people are tense and there’s a lot of emotion in it, and I think we’re going to see people getting out of the business.”

‘Trying to discover gold’

Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, said the uptick in new agents is happening nationwide. He said many newcomers are seeing the red-hot market and considering a career change amid high unemployment.

“I like the entrepreneurship and spirit of the newcomers, but it’s a tough business,” Yun said. “Existing members do not like to see further competition from people coming in, but it is what it is, and given that inventory is short, trying to get that listing is like trying to discover gold.”

Las Vegas broker Bruce Hiatt, founder of Luxury Realty Group, said it’s hard to land listings because many homeowners don’t know where they’d move to amid the shrinking supply of houses and rising prices.

“Sellers don’t know where they can go,” Hiatt said.

These and other hurdles haven’t stopped people like Youssef Salameh from getting into the industry. Salameh owned a Lebanese restaurant in Brooklyn, New York, before selling it last year and moving with his family to Las Vegas. He said he was fortunate to sell just before COVID-19 caused nationwide shutdowns.

He was planning to stay in the restaurant business, possibly opening a food truck. But with the industry in turmoil during the pandemic, he opted for a real estate license.

Salameh joined Scofield Realty in December and, he said, has multiple deals under contract.

“I can’t believe I’m this busy for just starting off,” he said.

Contact Eli Segall at esegall@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0342. Follow @eli_segall on Twitter. Contact Subrina Hudson at shudson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0340. Follow @SubrinaH on Twitter.

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