The Perfect Time To Buy

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There is no such thing, of course. The perfect time to buy would mean that you have all kinds of leverage, and can make sellers give you pretty much the deal you want, but prices are nonetheless rising rapidly so that you will have a large amount of equity the first time you need or want to refinance, or if you need to relocate.

These two conditions never go together. If buyers have all the leverage, as they do right now, they are certainly not going to opt for increasing prices. Sellers can gripe and moan about it all they want, but while prices may be stabilizing right now, they aren't going to go up until all of the extra inventory clears. Supply and Demand. Three years ago there might have been 4000 residential properties on the market locally at any one time. The last time I checked, there were about 22,000. That means 18,000 additional sellers are competing for no more than the same number of buyers (fewer by my count). If they don't really want to sell, if they just want to sabotage other sellers by adding to apparent inventory, that's no skin off the buyers' noses. If sellers want to actually sell the property, they've got to compete in order to attract those potential buyers. It's not like buyers just go out there and buy the property whose owner's turn it is to sell. They buy the best property for them at the cheapest price. So sellers can either compete by having a cheaper price, or they can compete by having a better property. Most house bling does not recover the money you spend on it, even in a seller's market, but it might give you the wedge you need to attract a buyer in a buyer's market - provided that your property is no more expensive than the comparables. Most sellers are still in denial about this. They've got something a little bit better than the comparables, they want to ask $50,000 more, and then they wonder why their property isn't selling.

If you're looking for a time when property prices are increasing by twenty percent per year, by all means wait. Those conditions are called "seller's markets," because people who are willing to sell can get buyers to do pretty much everything they want, including pay more than the last seller got. Most sellers want to hold when prices are going like that, and buyers are desperate to acquire. High demand, low supply.

Personally, I think conditions are as good as they get for buyers, especially if you're going to hang around three years or more. Yes, prices might deflate a little more and you're likely to lose some money on paper. But trying to time the market so that you buy at exactly the moment when it hits bottom is an exercise in futility. Trying to "Time the market," whether stocks, bonds, or real estate, is a recipe for disaster. It's great if it happens, but it's sheer luck, and anyone who tells you different is lying. By the time people realize that prices are really going up again, buyers will come out of the woodwork and we'll be in a seller's market again.

Buyer's markets, where sellers outnumber buyers like they do now, do not last long, in large part due to the fact that once everyone figures out that prices are no longer declining, now everybody suddenly wants to buy. Inventory has usually been shrinking for quite some time before that happens. As a matter of fact, I just checked, and in the week or ten days since the last time I looked, local inventory has dropped. If it wasn't for people who had sense enough to withdraw suddenly rushing back, things would be looking at least a little rosier for those who do have to sell.

Buy while the ratio of sellers to buyers is in the thirties, while you can pick and choose your properties, and if one seller won't play ball, the one down the street who's a little more desperate will. If you need some special consideration, like a seller carryback of part of the purchase price, you kind find sellers who will be willing to cooperate because that's the only way they will get the property sold. If you wait until the market heats up and there are only five sellers per buyer, they're a lot more likely to tell you to take a hike with special requests like that. If I want cash, why should I loan it to someone with poor credit money at a below market rate if it's likely that I'll find another buyer in a week?

On top of this right now is the time of year. I originally wrote the article I'm updating near Christmas. Other things being equal, Christmas season is always the best time of year to shop for a property, because nobody wants to move the Christmas tree. Seriously, most people have enough extra stuff going on at Christmas that they don't want to add another major item: buying or selling their home. Those sellers who have their property on the market need to sell. But it's May now, and from Easter to school letting out is traditionally the best time for sellers, and we are seeing bidding wars for correctly priced property.

Nonetheless, with inventory finally dropping, and as fast as it is dropping, I wouldn't be surprised at all if the market started turning better for sellers and worse for buyers very soon. Once that starts to happen, expect prices to stabilize and then start to rise again, and the period of best deals for buyers to be over.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on May 7, 2008 7:00 AM.

Buyers, Asking Price and Days on Market was the previous entry in this blog.

Real Loans For Real People May 7, 2008 is the next entry in this blog.

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