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Realtors seek compromise with city on open house signs

In a buyers' market with growing inventory, home sellers need all the marketing help they can get.

But real estate agents have recently been told by the city of Myrtle Beach to take their "open house" signs down.

The rule - that only one open house sign can be on the property and there can't be signs down the street or on the corner - has been around for more than 25 years because of resident complaints.

Realtors say sellers need the signs to bring buyers in, and studies show 75 percent of people at open houses found it because of a directional sign.

"With 300 houses on the market in Myrtle Beach and over 2,000 condos, you can understand why their citizens are highlighting their houses. Three hundred houses - that's a lot of competition," said Steven Neeves, government affairs director for the Coastal Carolinas Association of Realtors.

Neeves said he first started getting calls from real estate companies in early November saying the city had told them to take down the signs.

"We never had anyone complain about open house signs. This has been on the books for 25 years, and it never came to anyone's attention. It wasn't enforced," Neeves said.

City spokesman Mark Kruea says the city has not changed its enforcement policy.

"The number of signs has proliferated, and we've been more active letting people know that it's not allowed. If they've heard from us more recently, it's because there's more signs to talk about," Kruea said.

The city code enforcer informed real estate companies they were breaking the law and the first offense is a

misdemeanor, Neeves said.

"With the real estate board and state code of ethics, [real estate agents] could actually lose their license. It became an emergency situation for us," Neeves said.

The law is the same for open house signs as it is for garage sale signs - you can't put them down the street.

"The Realtors want to be able to advertise open houses with off-premise signage. That is a door the city is not inclined to open. It would greatly expand the signage and sign clutter," Kruea said.

The Realtors association came up with what they thought was a compromise.

Since city officials viewed the signs as free advertising for a specific real estate company and street clutter, Neeves asked to make a law change to put up generic "open house" signs for directions only without the company name. No more than one sign could go on any given corner and the agent must take down the sign by nightfall on the day of the open house.

No decision has been made, and the city attorney and the Realtors' attorney are expected to meet to discuss the issue.

"I think everyone understands the real estate industry's need in this particular instance but crafting something that just allows them to use the public right of way probably isn't possible," Kruea said.

Neeves thinks it may come down to citizens of Myrtle Beach telling council they want to be able to put up open house signs.

"This is not a Realtor issue; it's a homeowner issue. We're in a buyers' market, and these people are saying 'We want to sell our house.' I'm afraid it's not going to be the Realtors that get this resolved. I don't know of a single Realtor willing to jeopardize their license," Neeves said.

The signs debate is not unusual.

"I've been in five markets and that's always been an interesting issue," said Tom Maeser, president of the Fortune Academy of Real Estate. "It's typical for people to say we don't want those awful-looking signs in our yards. It's real easy to not want signs when you don't have a house for sale. The only ones suffering are the ones trying to sell homes."

As new home sales jumped 7 percent in 2006 and resale home sales dropped 25 percent, analysts say builders and developers have the upper hand when it comes to marketing and offering incentives.