'Birthday Houses' Celebrate Unwanted Anniversary

birthday housesSo many unwanted homes are sitting on the market for so many days that maudlin sellers have come up with a name for them: birthday houses. As in, this is the first, second, third or fifth year that my house has been in limbo: up for sale, but not selling.

Gabrielle Rudin, a marketing executive in Manhattan, bought her 3-bedroom house in Catskill to get away from the stress of the city (photos below). When the recession hit, she found it unaffordable. Now the house, which has been on and off the market since 2008, is a cause of stress. "I resent it,'' says Rudin. "I compare it to other houses that have sold in the area and I think, it has a porch, it has a deck and a two-car garage. ... Why me?'' She even cut the price from $235,000 to $195,000, but still no takers.

Realtors tell Rudin it's not her fault; it's the market's. But the birthdays are becoming more like wakes.
On Monday, the National Association of Realtors delivered more bad news. Home sales fell almost 10 percent in February after three straight months of gains. The glut of houses listed for sale rose to 3.5 million last month, and that doesn't even count the shadow inventory of millions more that will come to the market eventually.

Some estimates project distressed homes currently in limbo between foreclosure and the sales
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market could take three years to sell off. Florida, where 18 percent of all homes sit vacant, is suffering from the worst oversupply in the country. Analysts there say it will take 8 years for vacancy numbers to drop into single-digit territory.

Unsold birthday houses fall into several categories. Some come with price tags and square footage that are simply obsolete in this job-starved economy. Others are worth less than they cost, and their owners can't afford to hold a fire sale. Some houses belong to owners still living in delusion about what the house is worth. And some homeowners are just unlucky.

Joan Frank put herself in that last category. In 2006, she put her 4,000 square-foot home in Sedona, Ariz., on the market. A massive wildfire ripped through the area. Then, the city started work on a major highway project and the road to her house was completely blocked off. Then the recession hit and the economy began to tank. "Every single thing was against us,'' she says.

One freezing winter day more than a year after the house was put up for sale, a water pipe exploded, flooding the space between the first and second floors. For Joan, that was the last straw. She decided she would call her real estate agent and pull the house off the market, right after she called the insurance company to report the water leak.

Just as she was ready to give up, however, her luck changed. While Joan was on the phone with her insurance company, her Realtor called and said a young couple who had seen the house the day before had come forward with an offer. Within days, the pipe was fixed and the sale was underway.

Finally, the house was sold. But the uncertainty and anxiety of living in limbo for more than a year was not. To help her out of her funk, Joan wrote "Home Seller's Blues and How to Beat Them,'' a how-to of tips on how to sell a home and advice for living with frustration and uncertainty when it takes forever.

Her two key pieces of advice for strung-out sellers: Be extremely flexible, and check your ego. "Do not equate yourself with the price of your house,'' she says. "People think, I'm a $900,000 person. If I sell for less than that, I'm worth less than that. You have to get over that.''

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