What kind of a market is this, anyway?

With news headlines that are no less constant than they are sensational focusing on housing starts, inventory, home prices, and foreclosures, it’s hard for most people to decipher just where we are on the roller coaster.  I don’t like the roller coaster mentality, because it suggests the ride has an end. Since the dawn of time, man has tried to own and control the land on which he dwells. It’s obvious there will continue to be only the same amount of that dirt which we already have, and a growing number of people to inhabit it. It doesn’t take Mark Twain to tell anyone, “Buy land, they aren’t making any more of it”. In this way, I have a hard time with the myopic attitudes of many people during what is surely a historically affordable time in the housing market. Interest rates haven’t been this low since World War 2, and many of the world’s richest men have gotten there at least in part by their investments in real estate. There are still really wonderful lenders working with buyers who have been through the credit wringer, and who have very little to no money to put down (these are private porftolio loans but they come with the same kind of amazing rates- Key Bank is a great source).  Let’s celebrate! Right?

Actually the unfortunate thing is that this housing market came yoked to a bad economy–what economists say is the worst since the Great Depression, and in some ways even comparable.  Life circumstances often outweigh market circumstances, and many people are forced to sell low after having bought higher.  Many people would buy, if they could just get a decent job. Are those people apt to look through Mark Twain’s long lense of history and feel like this downturn is a blip on the radar? Probably unlikely. Enter wave after wave after wave of short sales and foreclosure properties. We’ve seen years of this, and are we near the end? The numbers suggest a slowing but not an end anytime soon- technically and broadly speaking, property values have to return to their previous levels in order for these homes to be worth what most homeowners still owe on them.  How long will that take? Call me when you find a crystal ball.  I am already seeing prices edging back up here and there, by small increments, in select areas around Seattle (Ballard, Phinney Ridge, Bryant, View Ridge, Queen Anne, Ravenna, Greenlake, and Maple Leaf are a few locations where I’ve recently pulled information for a specific property and seen values adjust higher than last year). My guess is a few more years for us, longer for more depressed areas in the state and the country.  Because this looks to be the case, What’s called ‘Strategic Default’ (and is technically classified by the FBI as fraud) now comprises a huge portion of these foreclosures and short sale files. People who were ‘A paper’ loans (the good e credit, steady financials buyer), who are not in financial trouble necessarily, but feel that it’s a better business decision to walk away from this debt than to continue paying, not knowing how long it will take the property to regain its previous value.  Lienholders are glutted with delinquent files. It’s a mess.

My point? Buy when there’s blood in the street, as one notoriously rich real estate investor has said. If you can find a way to capitalize on this time of opportunity and focus on the options available to you as a buyer (even you, previous short-salers– if you wait 3 years post close), you will be tickled pink that we’re all sitting around talking about this being the ‘bottom’. The ground floor is always the best place to get in on something good!  What little inventory there is, is really flying off the market here in Seattle, most often with multiple offers.   The low number of homes for sale creates a strong competition among the buyers out seriously looking for a home to purchase, causing many to lose out multiple times to other higher offers. Bidding wars are de rigueur on reasonably priced homes in high-demand areas like Seattle proper.

So is it a Buyer’s Market? In the way of you getting a great deal as a buyer, yes. In the way of being able to boss the seller around and come in swinging with a really low offer- no.  These days, I like to call it a ‘Buying Market’.