Frank Powell: The MML Interview

By on 18 February, 2013 in Interviews, Real Estate with 0 Comments

Since last May, we’ve had a relative looking to buy a house in Montgomery. This has meant we’ve gotten to see inside a bunch of houses over the last year – some were just beautiful, others not so much. We wrote a little post about our experience this past summer. After another go-round in January, we were reminded how much we enjoyed the company of our relative’s Realtor, Frank Powell, so we decided to interview him and see what thoughts he might share about the state of the real estate business.

MML: How’d you get into real estate?

Frank: I’ve been in the business since 2002. Before that, I had sold cars since I was 17 years old. I knew Sandra Nickel as a friend, and when I decided to move on from the auto industry, I asked her if I could come and work for her. She said “Sure, go get your license,” and I’ve been here ever since.

MML: You’re from Montgomery. How have you seen it change in your lifetime?

Frank: Montgomery’s gotten incredibly more open-minded and liberal in my lifetime. It’s always been diverse, but that’s been a big change. I’ve watched most retail leave the downtown area in the 1960s and 1970s, and now I’m watching downtown re-emerge as a prosperous area of restaurants and entertainment. I can remember going downtown in the mid-1970s and you just wouldn’t see a soul in sight. But now it’s full of life, and barbeque smoke – it just gives you a good, warm feeling.

MML: How has the real estate business changed in the ten years you’ve been at it?

Frank: I think the biggest change is that I’ve seen two distinct kinds of buyers emerge. The first kind is what I call a value buyer. This person isn’t that concerned with the city’s history or their home’s location. They want more square footage, big rooms, granite countertops and often go for new construction. The second kind of buyer is very location-sensitive. They want to be at the crux of all the happenings, to be in a walking neighborhood, and perceive value in a home’s overall package rather than mostly the features of a home itself. These days, there aren’t very many people who fit in between these two categories.

MML: What advice do you have for people trying to sell homes right now?

Frank: It had better be in showboat condition and priced right. The buyers out there now are very picky. They are location-sensitive and not as much about the amenities as they are about the right location. Things like bathrooms and kitchens matter, of course, but often location-type buyers are thinking they are going to fix those up anyway. Some people are still trying to flip houses around here, but buyers can tell the difference between a good flip and a flop. Details give away a flop, things like quarter round molding, switchplates, rough edges, etc.

MML: People probably ask you this all the time, but how’s the market?

Frank: I think there is pent-up demand in the market – people want to buy houses but are maybe just not ready yet, or are nervous about the economy. That said, we have seen a good bit more activity so far this year than we have in a while. Houses that are priced right, well maintained, with good amenities in a nice location are selling.

MML: Many people are looking at buying real estate as an investment, particularly as income property. What advice do you have for those folks?

Frank: It’s a no-brainer to buy a house rather than rent, especially if you’re going to be in a place for two years or more. In general, with rates as low as they are, you can’t go wrong buying real estate. Many people looking for income property are finding bargains in less well kept neighborhoods. It’s like buying a 20 year old Cadillac – it’s not quite a classic and not up to date, but can be a good deal.

MML: What are some of the stranger things you’ve seen showing houses around town?

Frank: Naked people. Seriously, sometimes no matter how hard you try to make an appointment to show a house, somebody’s relative is in town and you show up only to find them naked. Particularly awkward when you’re there with a family! Sometimes I find that I’m surprised by people’s choices of furnishings. They can be really bizarre. I’ve learned that money doesn’t guarantee good taste – I’ve seen $75,000 homes that look like they should be in a magazine and much more expensive homes that look really sad. Also, I think that people are watching way too much HGTV. We can tell when we go into homes and people are using decorator colors, trendy accessories and way too much granite.

MML: What advice do you have for people looking to haggle over a home’s price?

Frank: Really, it depends on how the house is priced to begin with. Sometimes there is nothing wrong with paying full price, as long as it is priced right. We have seen a few multiple offer situations in the last years with well-priced homes in good locations selling at full or over full price.

MML: How many houses have you owned?

Frank: I’m on my eighth house right now. I’ve owned several different styles of houses, but my favorite so far is the 1950s contemporary home I live in now.

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