San Francisco House Hunters Press On After Drop

SAN FRANCISCO (04/18/2000) - At a real estate open house in San Francisco's Noe Valley, a quiet neighborhood where a two-bedroom bungalow can approach three quarters of a million dollars, Wall Street's dramatic drop was definitely on people's minds. But house hunters still had their checkbooks with them.

Susan Ring, an agent with B.J. Drubi Real Estate, was showing a two-bedroom house to mostly young couples, many of them renters hoping to buy their first home. Ring said there were as many visitors as in previous weeks. And despite the market drop, shoppers appeared as eager as ever. "We won't really know how this is going to affect our market," she says. She adds, however, that the red-hot real estate market is "Internet driven." "If it's a bear market," she says, "it's going to affect the real estate market." Ring insists that she's not worried, however, and says the slowdown will have a silver lining. "We know the [real estate] economy can't go on like this. I'm sure it will take a lot of buyers out of the market or put them in a very different price range," she says. "If less millionaires are being made daily, it's not going to be the same market."

That would be just fine with her, provided things don't come to a screeching halt. "What we're hoping for as an industry is a calmer market." If the real estate market cools down, she says, "we won't have to work so frantically with so many buyers who are frustrated because there's nothing to buy."

House-hunter Nicholas Kontis, chairman of TicketPlanet.com, a San Francisco startup that sells travel tickets online, says he doubts the sell-off is anything serious and adds that it probably will help him when he buys a second home. "It's probably discouraged a few buyers, which for me makes it a good time to buy," he says as he revs the engine of a deep-blue hot rod emblazoned with his company's name in yellow letters.

A homeowner for five years, Kontis says he plans to rent out the next house he buys. Even Maria and Robert Tilghman, a married couple who say they lost half of their portfolio in last week's sell-off, were out house shopping. Robert admits that "the fact I lost a fair amount of money doesn't help," but he adds that the downturn has lowered the price they can afford by only about 10 percent.

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