Knock knock! It's a Hamilton realtor, hoping you'll sell

Cold-call tactics are picking up in certain neighbourhoods as Hamilton homebuyers try to find their dream house, even if it's not yet on the market.

With a tight supply of homes on the market, realtors use cold calls, door knocks and letters

Realtors Ryan Thompson and Randy Hart dropped letters on every door on West Avenue North, hoping to find a homeowner willing to sell to their client, whose house hunt consists of only that street. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Laney Haverkamp arrived home from running errands one afternoon in December and saw a flash of red poking out of her door. Nearby townhouses in the Meadowlands development in Ancaster had them, too.  

"We all had Christmas cards with big candy canes," she said. "I thought, 'Oh, we must have a really nice neighbour.'"  

We actually got rid of our home phone because we were getting too many calls.- Laney Haverkamp

But the card in the gold-lined envelope was from a realtor, one Haverkamp had never met.

"If you're ever thinking of selling..." the greeting went, along with a sheet of stickers. 

She was experiencing a fact of Hamilton's housing boom that many homeowners are: Local realtors are dusting off their door-knocking spiels as the demand for real estate outpaces the number of houses listed for sale. 

Haverkamp wasn't thinking of selling. She rents. 

In the warmer months, Haverkamp said, she and her husband fend off a knock at the door or a phone call from a realtor every couple of weeks. One told her his clients had lost a bidding war nearby but had their hearts set on the neighbourhood.

"We actually got rid of our home phone because we were getting too many calls," Haverkamp said.

Prices rose 6 per cent across Hamilton and Burlington last year, and the booming market shows up in some neighbourhoods more than others. A BMO economist cited the low number of homes listed for sale compared to the number of buyers out looking as a reason he thinks Hamilton will be one of the "firmer" markets in the country in 2015. 

'Some pretty hot areas and pretty low inventory' 

Here's how that ratio looks: In Hamilton Centre last year, there were 1,105 homes sold, compared to 1,461 homes listed. In the same portion of the city a few years earlier in 2010, there were fewer sales and hundreds more listings. 

That supply-and-demand tightness is part of sends prices up: Homes in Hamilton Centre sold for an average price of $202,011 in 2014, up 14 per cent from 2013's $177,044 average price.

When that sales-to-listings ratio is as tight as it was throughout 2014, realtors compete for the few listings that are out there, and try to drum up something for their clients to buy that may or may not be listed yet. They write letters, place phone calls, knock on doors.

Dwayne Cline and his wife bought their house for $110,000 14 years ago on Murray Street in Hamilton. Last summer, a realtor from Toronto presented an offer for $500,000. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)
Sometimes they come bearing stunning news of what they think your house is worth. North End homeowner Dwayne Cline answered his Murray Street door this summer to find a Toronto
realtor offering a client willing to pay $500,000 for his house. Cline paid $110,000 14 years ago.

"The fact is that in Hamilton we have some pretty hot areas and we have some pretty low inventory in those areas," said Donna Bacher, a veteran realtor who is the president of the Realtors Association of Hamilton-Burlington. "Now when you have multiple offers — 5, 10, 12 buyers for a property, we're looking for other similar properties."

Realtors use a proximity rule of thumb, Bacher said. When a house goes up on the market, someone within 20 houses of that house will be selling soon.

It's just up to them to find which one.

'We have been looking for a little while now'

The mail carrier brought the message to a homeowner in Crown Point this week. 

"We are currently helping our clients Sean and Lani search for a home, specifically in the Crown Point Area," read the letter from Burlington-based agents Ryan Thompson and Randy Hart. Sean and Lani, the letter-reader learned, are looking for a house to renovate, but haven't liked any of the listings that have come on the market lately.

Letter from Ryan Thompson and Randy Hart, realtors based in Burlington whose clients are looking for a house in Hamilton's Crown Point neighbourhood.
"In an attempt to find other opportunities, we thought we would contact homeowners in Crown Point who may be thinking about selling either now or in the near future," the letter continues.

Thompson told CBC Hamilton the tactic doesn't always work, but it at least gets people thinking someone might be interested in their property.

For another client who's only interested in buying a house on West Avenue North, Thompson has dropped off letters and knocked on doors in pursuit.

"There's only about 100 houses on that whole street," Thompson said. "We dropped it off on every door." 

Bacher said sometimes a realtor showing up on someone's doorstep gives them a chance to ask a question about their property. 

"I've actually knocked on doors in the past and been listing the house later on that night," she said. "Realtors are knowledgable. They're like a walking Google search." 

"They're gonna say 'Get off my lawn'"

Scott Bouman, an agent with Ambitious Realty Advisors, said sometimes realtors don't have much choice. 

Buyers who are looking in the competitive market of the North End, or the bayfront, may find themselves surrounded by other buyers on every listing. 

So a savvy or desperate agent may hit the street.

"It's what you have to do ... in times like this in the Hamilton market," he said. "Some [homeowners] are somewhat aware of what's going on but unaware that somebody could be so interested in their property."

Bouman said he's had some success helping commercial clients land new spaces with a cold call, but it hasn't been as fruitful on the residential side. He hopes those connections will pan out in months or years to come.

But the reality of knocking on a stranger's door can be uncomfortable in the moment, Bouman said. 

"They're gonna say, 'Get off my lawn,' — it's solicitation in reality," he said. "It can work but it doesn't have a great rate of return in terms of the energy and the time involved."


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