Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tell Me - How Do I Win a Contract in This Market?

This market is unlike any that I have seen over the past 8 years. Buyer activity is SOARING and inventory is down, which has buyers racing to get their contracts noticed and accepted, all while the first-time home buyers tax credit quickly ticks away. The number of contracts written (offers) versus the number actually accepted and pushed to closing is the biggest indicator of this shifting market, as that ratio is at its highest level in years. My team recently sold a property at 13854 Laura Ratcliffe Ct. in Centreville, VA, which was listed for $235,868, but which actually closed on August 28th for well above asking price. The terms of the various offers made on that property exemplify these shifting trends:
Buyers were given one week to get their highest and best offers in and 8 were registered. The highest offer was for 265K w/ FHA financing, almost $30K above asking price. However, by the end of the week, the seller had accepted an offer of only 240K, the difference being that that contract had conventional financing and an EMD of 1% of the offer price.
This is a prime example of what prospective buyers are currently facing in this market, and with the obvious exception of the significantly depressed prices, it actually harkens back to the market we experienced in 2005-2006, at the ‘peak’ of the last up-cycle. The obvious difference is the lower prices, but with the $8,000 tax credit expiring soon, frantic buyers are scrambling and multiple contract ‘bidding war’ situations are slowly beginning to elevate prices. There are more qualified first-time home buyers now than ever before, and there simply are not enough affordable listings to satisfy that demand. Therefore, so-called “hot properties” (those which show well and which are priced at, or just below, current market value) are creating multiple offer bidding-war situations, and are often commanding premiums above current market value, particularly those priced below the critical $200K price point. Take for example a 3 bed/3.5 bath townhouse listing we currently have in Herndon: it was priced just below current market value at $202K, and we received 18 contracts within 6 days of listing! Although demand is particularly high for properties priced below $200K, due to the overall current low inventory across ALL price ranges, we are seeing similar ‘bidding wars’ even for “hot properties” in the luxury home markets. The low inventory can be attributed to the bank foreclosure moratoriums and a dearth of ‘retail’ or regular listings - since prices are lower, many potential sellers are simply holding off, hoping to see the market bounce back up before listing their homes. Thus, current ‘retail’ or regular listings consist primarily of only those sellers who really want and need to sell now – those who can afford to wait are generally doing so. That being said, I highly recommend to those who have to sell their home within the next year to do so NOW so as to take advantage of this enhanced buyer demand caused by the low inventory and the soon-to-expire first time home buyer tax credit. You will get maximum exposure and maximum contracts by listing now, again, the key being to make your property a “hot property” – that is, a property which is reasonably priced (ideally just below current market value), which is aggressively marketed, and which shows well so that it appraises under many different financing scenarios. While I don’t think we will find ourselves anywhere close to the 2005-2006 prices anytime in the near future, we are seeing positive signs in the current market, and it will be interesting to see how things shake out over the next year, as additional foreclosures will inevitably hit our market, and after the $8K first-time buyer tax credit expires on December 1st.
Finally, good luck to those first-time buyers out there. Remember, in order to compete with those cash investors who are swooping in and picking up many of the good deals, be sure to investigate all your funding options, to include 1) conventional whenever possible, 2) as much cash down as possible, 2) higher EMD amounts and 4) low or no concessions whenever possible. Cash buyers simply avoid a lot of the issues that buyers with FHA and other financing options engender, such as appraisal and underwriting requirements. Therefore, first time buyers should be sure to work with a competent lender and should discuss the multitude of creative ways to make your offer look stronger than the others!

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