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Low Mortgage Rates, Low Prices – So Where Are The Buyers?

There’s very little debate over the fact that this is a “Buyer’s” Market” right now.  The thing is that this time around it’s a little different than in past market cycles.  There are plenty of homes to choose from, prices are low (still declining in many areas) and interest are as ever.

By all rights, there should be lots and lots of people buying houses right now.  There aren’t!  There are buyers and they are buying houses but not at the pace that the market conditions should justify.

Why not?

Here’s a short video that may be helpful in understanding part of the reason.

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It is NOT a Good Time To Buy A House!

IT’S A GREAT TIME TO BUY —  OHHHHMMMMM

IT’S A GREAT TIME TO BUY— OHHHHMMMMM

To quote one my heroes, Simon Cowell,  “I don’t mean to be rude but….” SHUT UP ALREADY!

Yes prices are low!  Yes Interesting Rates are historically low!  Yes there’s a ton of housing inventory!

So let me qualify my opening about why everyone should not be jumping on the bandwagon and grabbing up some of the low-priced inventory with the low-interest rates.

It goes back to something that has been mercilessly pounded into our collective consciousness over the last 50 years.

REAL ESTATE IS A GREAT INVESTMENT!!!!

For many years, this was true.  In fact if you search through my blog archives you’ll find that I have taken my turn at chanting the mantra. If I were a politician, I might be called a flip flopper.

Right now – it’s NOT a great investment.  Sure we’d all love to silently hope that the RE Market is going to “cycle back to normalcy” tomorrow – or next month, or next year.  Another Cowelism – “If I’m being honest..”  there really aren’t any indicators that home prices are going to “bounce back” anytime soon.

Of course no one really knows exactly what the future brings and I’m by no means an economist but I continually read just about everything that’s out there on this subject and nothing has convinced me that you can buy a house now and watch your investment grow.

One of the things that makes me believe this has to do with the next “wave of foreclosures” that is coming in the next 9 – 18 months.

So, if that’s the case, you might ask, why did I just spend several hundred dollars and renew my Realtor’s License?

Fact is, there are people who should and will be buying homes and with the market as complex and dynamic as it is right now, those people need a guide like me who knows the ins and the outs so they can make it all the way from their current home to the next as gracefully and smoothly as possible.

So who is it that should be buying?

Glad you asked.

There is only one valid reason to be buying a home right now – if you are looking for a new place to live and plan on staying there for some time. For those people it’s a great time to buy for all the reasons above (low price, low interest tons of inventory).

So what I’m suggesting is this: Be honest with yourself. If you need a new place to live in Connecticut – give me shout and I WILL  help you find it.   If you are thinking that you should buy a house because conventional wisdom has been drilled and drilled that it’s a good investment, you may want consider buying gold.

It IS a Buyer’s Market.  That merely means that there are more sellers than there are buyer’s – it’s just supply and demand. It doesn’t mean that everyone should be buying just to buy.  If you need a house, you can get a great value – a REALLY great value – but think about the house as place to live, not as a way to make money.

Right now in Northern Fairfield County, CT there are more than 2000 Single Family Homes and Condominiums listed for sale.  They range in price from the low $100,000’s to more than $8,000,000.   So there are a lot of options.  If you have a valid reason to purchase one, I’d be excited and delighted to help you sort it all out.

———-

Rick Schwartz,   REALTOR

Homes for sale in Danbury, Bethel, Brookfield, Newtown, New Fairfield, New Milford, Ridgefield and Redding CT.

The Risks of Killer Negotiation

I’ve written before on this subject and this may or may not be my final word on the topic of negotiation (you never know what’s going to pop into my addled, old brain at any moment.) It covers the subject of why it may be in your own best interest not to approach a home negotiation with the tactics of your character in Mafia Wars.

What is KILLER NEGOTIATION?

In a nutshell it means putting the other party in a vice until they crack. Pushing them to do what you want not by vigorous “give and take haggling” to make the best deal you can, but by testing the limits at which they will “break” and bend to your will.

This can apply to either side – the buyer or the seller.  In a depreciating (buyer’s) market the seller will typically be the target and in an appreciating (seller’s) market it will most often be the buyer.  Not always – it is sometimes about the market and sometimes it’s just about exploiting the other party’s sense of desperation.

KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE GOAL.

I’m in no way urging that you should pay more or take less for a house than the market or your individual situation dictates.  This isn’t about the results of bargaining – it’s about the tactics. Remember what your objective is and why you put yourself into this position in the first place.  The goal is the same for each side: To make the best financial transaction you can in the best time frame with the least amount of risk.

The part of that statement that everyone always zooms in on is the first part – the price!  The goal, however has more than just that.  It’s about your optimum time frame and minimizing your risk.

RISK?? WHATCHOO TALKIN ABOUT?

I JUST WANT TO BUY (SELL) A HOUSE!

BUYER RISK

Unless you are paying cash for a house and are not selling another house, there are pieces of the transaction that you simply have no control over.

Most moves are part of a chain.  The number of links in the chain can vary. If you must complete the sale of your own home in order complete your purchase then you must rely on the success of your buyer.  If that buyer is also selling something then you must rely on the success of your buyer’s buyer.  And so on. The more links the more places something can go wrong.

The old adage about a chain only being as strong as its weakest link doesn’t have a better example than in a chain of home sales that rely on each other.

In addition, if you are acquiring a mortgage for your purchase there are a million things that can go wrong between the time you and the seller agree on transaction terms and the closing. The work flow of a mortgage is dependent on a number of laws that have specific intervals between critical dates as well as being dependent on the speed, work-ethic and efficiency of any number of employees and third party vendors that the bank may employ.

SELLER RISK

Unless you are selling your home with the idea of renting your next home, staying in a hotel while you travel for a while, or moving in with relatives and you do not need the net proceeds from the sale for living expenses, there are parts of the transaction that you have no control over.

The chain affects you as well – on both ends. In order to close successfully you are dependent on your buyer’s success and his buyer’s success. And so on.  In addition, if you are purchasing another home where  you plan to live, you cannot complete that transaction unless the people you are buying from close successfully – and they are dependent on the people they are buying from. And so on.

THE ULTIMATE DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY

Sellers, buyers, downstream buyers and upstream sellers are interdependent on each other for a successful move.   You start out as adversaries and then you all need each other to be successful. I’m not a mathematician so I can’t calculate the degree of risk but let’s just say that the more links in the chain the higher the odds that it will break somewhere along the line.

You cannot control anything that happens upstream or downstream.  You can’t even control much that happens with the two closest links, who are your buyer and your seller.  There is one thing that you can do to lessen some of the risk – at least at the closest point to you. You can control the level of goodwill between you and your buyer or seller.

SOME EXAMPLES

Work with your Realtor and come up with a price range that falls in within market value. Negotiate by making offers and counter offers. Try and learn what you can about the other parties sense of urgency and stick to numbers that you think will be accepted.  Wait them out if you have to.  Don’t go to a number that you don’t think is acceptable.  Go as many rounds as you have to, working with your Realtor’s guidance.

The key is to do it with respect.  (The following items are true – names changed to protect innocent).

  • Unless there is a valid reason – don’t tell your Realtor to inform the other party that if they don’t respond to a counter offer within a few hours, you are pulling out.
  • If you are the buyer and in your initial offer you ask for some item that was not in the listing – don’t press the issue if the seller replies that it’s an important item to them and they need to take it when they move.
  • If you are the seller and you settle on price around the time of a holiday weekend and the buyer can’t get an inspector to come out within 3 or 5 days as detailed in the offer – don’t inform him that his inspection contingency is gone
  • If you’ve gone through several rounds of offer/counter offer and you are now $800 apart on a $400,000 home, and the other party offers to move another $400 if you’ll do the same  – do it! Don’t come back and say you’ll do $350 if he’ll do $450

You certainly have the right to do any or all of the above.  As a Realtor, my job is to advise, but ultimately present any and all offers and demands my client makes.

The odds are, whatever side you are on, there is going to be SOMETHING you’ll need from the other party after the negotiation before the closing (These are all true)

  • A buyer is going to ask the seller to extend the mortgage commitment date in the contract by a week
  • A seller is going to ask a buyer if they can rent the house back after closing for 48 hour
  • Either side might need an extra day to execute the sales contract because their attorney was sick

There are a dozen other examples but you get the idea.  The bottom line is that if you put the other party in a box and squeeze the life out of him at the beginning of a transaction – I can assure you that he will remember.

As with most of things I write or talk to clients about – the operative phrase is “Accurate Expectations”.

The funny part of it is, very few strong arm tactics actually change the outcome of your transaction.  It’s almost never about the original goal (see above). It’s about winning.  As I’ve said before a truly successful negotiation doesn’t have to have a winner and a loser.

Where Will The Jobs Come From?

I know, I know, I’m not an economist, I’m a Realtor. My expertise is in helping people buy and sell houses in CT, so why am I writing about job creation?

Well, the sooner employment turns around, the sooner the housing market will get back to normal – whatever normal is. As my clients who want to buy and sell houses in the Danbury CT area are able to  take part of this new job growth it should provide them more opportunity to find the right homes.

I came across this report from The Kauffman Foundation regarding their opinions on what areas are going to provide jobs for America over the next couple of years.

—————-

Rick Schwartz,   REALTOR

Homes for sale in Danbury, Bethel, Brookfield, Newtown, New Fairfield, New Milford, Ridgefield and Redding CT.

A Real Estate Carol: Ghosts of Prices Past, Present and Yet May Be!

January 1, 2010 1 comment

THE FOLLOWING IS BASICALLY TRUE, EXCEPT FOR THE PART THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN YET

THE NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED

THE NUMBERS ARE ALL ACCURATE

REALITY

John and Mary decided in the fall of 2006 to move.  The house they were in was old, and had too many steps for John’s aging knees.  They did some fixin’ up and put the place on the market in early 2007.

One of their neighbors who had a similar house two doors down had sold in the summer of 2006 and received $430K.

Their Realtor told them that prices had dropped a little in their market and they should list it at $425 and be prepared to come down a bit.  Mary and John were concerned by this.  They felt that their house was at least as nice as the neighbor’s and that they did not think they should take “a loss”.

The Realtor, who knew that they had bought the house about 10 years earlier for $325, didn’t seem to agree that if they sold for $420 it should be counted as a loss.  In fact, she said, if you sold for $420, you’d be making a considerable profit.

Mary said “But if we had sold last summer we would have gotten more!”

The Realtor said “But you didn’t sell last summer?”

Mary: “Well, should we wait until prices come back up?”

Realtor: “I can only answer that if you can tell me when they will go up?”

Mary and John:  “HMMMmmmmmm

So Mary and John listed the house for $425 and in about 45 days sold it for $415.

They bought a new house in a different town about 20 miles away.  It was actually a bigger place but because it was a little farther out from the big city, the market was priced lower.  They bought it for $375.

With only a very small mortgage left on their original house, they were able to put $300 down on the new house and mortgage $75

As we move into 2010, home prices have NOT rebounded, in fact, they’ve continued to drop.  The home they bought in 2007 is now valued at $300 based on recent sales in their new neighborhood.

———–

ALTERNATE REALITY

Mary said “But if we had sold last summer we would have gotten more!”

The Realtor said “But you didn’t sell last summer?”

Mary: “Well, should we wait until prices come back up?”

Realtor: “I can only answer that if you can tell me when they will go up?”

Mary and John: “HMMMmmmmmm”

So Mary and John held on to their house, waiting until the market came back.  As of the beginning of 2010 it had not, in fact, prices continued to drop.

In January of 2010 John had had it with the stairs.  He told Mary they needed to sell now – even if they had to give the place away.

So they called their Realtor who, after doing a Market Analysis, told them that their home should bring between $330 and $340.

They listed it at $349 and after 45 days sold it for $340

After looking around they found a new home in another town (the same home in the first part of the story).  They purchased it for $305.

Since they had a very small mortgage on the house they sold, they were able to put $235 down and had a mortgage of $70.

——————————

So – if you put aside unimportant things like sale price and market value – at the end of the day,  in both scenarios John and Mary leveraged the equity in their home to buy another home that they liked better – and they ended up with virtually the same situation – with one exception. In the second scenario, they stayed in the house they didn’t like for three additional years.

WHAT IF…….

The whole thing was just starting now.

  • What if you have a home that no longer fits your needs?
  • What if you decide not to sell it because you are waiting for prices to come back up?
  • What if prices don’t rise, and you stay where you are for years?
  • What if, after that time, you make a move and end up with essentially the same financial situation?

Of course, as in any good space-time continuum story, the future is unwritten. Just ask good old Ebeneezer and he’ll tell you  The Ghost of What Will Be, is actually The Ghost of What MAY Be. Prices could go up or down dramatically in the next three years.

The point, I guess, of my little fable is that if prices go up or down on the house you want to sell, they will likely go up or down proportionately on the house you want to buy – so if you want to make a move, what is it you gain by waiting?

Just some food for thought.

God Bless Us Everyone!

Ugliest House Principle – Will it help you build equity faster?

September 24, 2009 Leave a comment

A little background before we start on the subject of ugly houses.

Real Estate Markets are very, very local – so this article is based on recent experiences with clients who are buying homes in Danbury, buying homes in Bethel, buying homes in Brookfield and buying homes in New Milford.

Our MLS system in Greater Fairfield County, CT, showed 11 homes the other day with price increases.  There were many more than that where the prices are being reduced so I can’t conclude that we are now in an appreciating market but…. although they are a bit confusing there some signs out there that we may be climbing out of the bottom.

The challenge for sellers over the last few years has been coming to grips with the fact that their home isn’t worth what they would like it to be. Soon, the real challenge may be for buyers.

WAITING FOR THE PERFECT STORM – PERFECT PRICE, RATE AND HOUSE

The challenge for buyers recently, has been that they don’t want to buy until we are “AT THE BOTTOM”.  Many people, who need to move for a variety of reasons, don’t want to buy a house until they are sure that it will not continue to fall in value.

People are staying in their existing homes or apartments much longer they would probably like to because they only want to buy when their new house is going to appreciate.

IT ALL DEPENDS ON YOUR PRIORITIES

It’s all about individual preference, I suppose.  Shereen and I bought our condo in June of 2007.

It is now September, 2009 and the value of our home is down roughly 14%.   While we’d certainly like it if the value had gone up, we can’t even begin to express how much happier we are living where we do, than living where we were. It’s a much nicer, newer, bigger place and we are loving it.  Had we held out for the bottom, we’d still be living where we were – all stressed out, waiting to move until the market changed.

In the end, if we’d put off our move until today, more than 2 years later, we’d probably have sold for 15% less than we did, so we’d have spent 2 more years wanting to move and we wouldn’t have made out any better financially.

HOW WILL WE KNOW WHEN WE HIT BOTTOM

My loyal Blogosphere fans have heard me talk about “the bottom” before, specifically that we are not going to know where it is until we can see it in our rear-view mirrors.

Having said that there are many who are saying that homes in the Danbury, Brookfield, Bethel area, might just be at the bottom. The challenge with hitting the bottom, is that the turning of the market is not going to be clear cut.  It will be a series of little dips, climbs, more dips and then a steady, if slow climb.

SO – IF THE MARKET IS HEADED UP, WHAT IS THE FASTEST WAY TO GAIN EQUITY WHEN YOU BUY?

Finally – back to the topic at hand.

Lately, I’ve had a number of buyer clients who have asked me about the “Ugliest Home Principle”.    In Real Estate Lingo we call this the Principle of Progression.  The counter to it is the Principle of Regression. Here’s what they mean in simple terms.

The Principle of Progression says if you have the most modestly valued home in a neighborhood of higher priced homes, your value will move closer to the value of the higher priced homes.  In a down market, your home will drop more slowly and in an up market your home will rise more quickly.

The Principle of Regression says that if you have the highest valued home in a neighborhood of lower priced homes, your value will move closer to the more modestly priced homes.  In a down market your home will drop more quickly and in an up market your home will rise more slowly.

Before we talk about the actual financial wisdom of this, you first need to answer to yourself the following two questions.

  1. When you find this ugly, small, low value home, willl it suit your life needs in terms of size, bathrooms, bedrooms, location etc.?
  2. Will you be happy living in the ugliest, smallest, lowest value home in the neighborhood?

If you can honestly answer “YES”,  then let’s look at the principles themselves and consider if they hold true.

DO THESE PRINCIPLES ACTUALLY WORK?

The answer is that they both Progression and Regression do work – but there are a couple of caveats.

First – they work best with a new home.  If there is a neighborhood of 3000SF, 4BR 2.5 Bath Colonials on 1.5 acres and you build a 1500SF Hi-Ranch with 3BR  1.5 baths on .35 acreage, your house will likely appreciate faster than if you built the same one in a neighborhood of other modest hi-ranches.

If the neighborhood has been around for 20 years and are looking to buy that 1500SF Hi-Ranch that was built 15 years ago, you have to keep in mind  most of the Progression has already happened.  Remember, the value of the modest home gets “closer” to the value of the higher-priced homes but it they’ll never be equal. It doesn’t keep going up forever.

Secondly, let’s assume that the “ugly” home is only 5 years old and the value has gone up – here’s the catch.  The person selling the home also knows about this principle and guess what – HE wants to take the increased equity. This is not a secret plan that only you know about. So you’re not going to “trick” the seller into selling below market value and then magically gain the value from Progression.

WHY ARE YOU BUYING A NEW HOME IN THE FIRST PLACE?

As a Realtor this is the question I always ask my buyer clients to consider carefully before deciding what home to buy?

Most often, people are moving to accommodate some change in lifestyle.

  • Moving up for a growing family
  • Downsizing after empty nest syndrome kicks in
  • New job – new commute
  • Moving into a town that suits you better

or a hundred other reasons.  The thing is you have to keep those reasons in mind. If you are choosing a house for lifestyle reasons but overlay that reason with wanting to buy a house that is going to gain equity the fastest, you will have to compromise somewhere.  You can’t serve two masters and get what you want.

Pick the investment avenue or pick the lifestyle avenue and move in the direction that you think is most important to you. After narrowing down the choices, you can compare the short list in terms of the “other master” and see how close you can come.

Be true and honest with yourself about why you want to move and let your Realtor help you find the home that suits your personal needs.

Slower and Harder – Be Prepared!

I know I’m dating myself with the reference but if I’m getting old it’s fine. Better than the alternative.

Roger Miller had a hit song int he 1960s called England Swings Like a Pendulum Do.

Well most things swing like pendulums, don’t they?  Right now the ability to get a mortgage has swung as far away from a few years ago as it can.

Allegedly, not too long ago, the primary qualification for a consumer being approved for a loan, it seems, was a mirror test.  If you help a mirror up to the face of the borrow and steam formed, they got the loan.

OK – that’s a little extreme but let’s face it, getting credit was a breeze.  There was in fact, a loan known as NINA which stood for No Income No Asset.

As far as the house they were buying, there are folks claiming today, whether it’s true or not it is being said, that appraisals were, for the most part matching the negotiated selling price.

Neither of those points is meant to be a knock to lenders or appraisers.   My point is not so much whether loans should have been granted or not, but the perception.

So, given the media coverage of sub-prime loans and “over zealous” appraisals, the lending industry has swung completely in the opposite direction.

There are some folks today who will have a more difficult time getting a mortgage.  For example, in some areas, the new “rule of thumb” for minimum FICO scores on a loan up to $417,000 is 660.  It goes even higher on bigger loans.

Every possible precaution that can be taken to insure credit-worthiness is being taken.  This will, without a doubt eliminate some borrowers who might have been included a few years ago.

Same with appraisals.  Tighter requirements for “comps” are in place. Remember, an appraised value is not the same as the assessed value. Sometimes the appraisers are not finding any valid comps and have to rely on other formulations to come up with the right price.  Some houses are not appraising for the sale price.

Even if the house appraises as you hope and even if the borrower gets approved, the fact is that the typical time for completing this process is likely to be longer than we may be used to.  What once took 4 – 6 weeks might, in some cases take 8 – 10 weeks or more.  Maybe not  – sometimes the stars align and things go quickly and smoothly – but be prepared.

One of the things that causes agita in Real Estate transactions is an unexpected delay. Trust me, there’s nothing quite as aggravating for a seller or a buyer, than getting a phone call 5 weeks into the process that this or that hasn’t been done, or more information is needed or that there’s a backlog in processing.  There’s a dozen different reasons but the end result is the same –  you can’t move when you thought you could.

These factors will vary from region to region and from specific transaction to specific transaction – talk to your Realtor and your Mortgage Professional to find out how things are going in your area.

My advice is to go into a home transaction – as a buyer or a seller – with the idea that it is NOT going to be as quick or as smooth as you want it to be – or what you might have experienced the last time around.

As a Realtor, my responsibility is to to stay in close touch with all the various players on an ongoing basis until the moment that we all walk out of the closing room smiling.  The most important thing I can do for you, is to help you set accurate expectations.   Disappointment, is always caused by inaccurate expectations.