Always think about selling in a Buyer’s Market

I am always sad when I see a house sell that has been sitting on the market forever.

Sometimes a house will stay on the market for a long time because the initial listing price was too high, or the house didn’t show well.  Both of those can happen to perfectly good homes.  The reason those don’t sell is because of the seller, not the house.  Often these houses sell once the list price gets reduced into the realm of reality, or the seller does some cosmetic repairs that make it easier for a buyer to want the house.

Any time I show a house like this, my client usually asks me why the house hasn’t sold yet.  If I check the listing history and see that they started out asking a crazy high price and have reduced it, I tell them it is okay to buy it.  If I look through old pictures or see fresh paint, new flooring, etc, I tell them it is okay to buy the house.  Sometimes sellers just need to learn how the market works at the expense of their days on market.

Then there are those houses that don’t sell because of the property itself.  Those are the ones that I advise my clients to not buy.  These houses usually have some odd feature like a crazy floor plan, a poorly done addition, a neighbor whose yard is full of junk or has a dozen dog kennels in their backyard, the house backs to commercial or industrial zoned properties, etc.  These houses eventually sell to somebody who doesn’t mind that particular negative.  Whenever I show one of these houses, I like to tell my client that while they might not mind the negative feature that has kept the house from selling, it will be extremely difficult for them to sell it when it is their turn.   The past 8 years have been a pretty strong Seller’s Market.  If a house took a long time to sell in a hot market, can you imagine how long it would take in a Buyer’s Market?

I have lived through lots of markets.  I have seen seller’s who paid too much in a hot market lose money when they needed to sell.  I have seen people get their dream job and move out of town, only to have to make two mortgage payments until their old house sells.  I have seen people who felt lucky to have gotten their house in multiple offers struggle to sell it in a Buyer’s Market.

I don’t want to see any of my clients go through any of this.  In real estate, you often don’t see the consequences of a mistake until years later when you go to sell.  Helping people avoid this mess is one of the greatest joys of my career.

What is this going to do to the value of my house?

I just had a client who is going to sell and buy with me ask me to forecast the market in the short term.  Here is what I said:
I think that the market and prices will at least remain stable for the next 6-12 months.  All of the unemployment is probably the biggest concern, but a lot of those that have been laid off are renters and not home owners so I am not expecting to see a lot of foreclosures.
Like any market, real estate is about supply and demand.  As long as the ratio of buyers to sellers remains fairly equal, the market will always be strong even if the total number of sales is down.  What we had already been seeing in the pre-coronavirus market is that people are staying longer in their houses.  That is one reason the market has been so strong the past few years….there have just been fewer houses for sale.  In Lexington, we have another issue that plays a big role, which is that we are running out of land to develop.  Lexington cannot simply build new houses to meet the demand like other towns across the country.  Even though the surrounding towns are seeing a construction boom, Lexington will always be the most desirable place to live in the Bluegrass.
There is a lot of refinancing going on.  Usually people stay longer in their houses when they have recently refinanced.  I saw this several years ago when rates had hit a record low at that time.  If rates stay similar to where they are now, it won’t be too bad.  If rates go up past 4%, people would have to pay a lot more for their mortgage than they do now.  If a seller’s house has appreciated a lot and so has the house they want to buy, having more equity from the sale of their old house to carry into the new one doesn’t matter as much if their payment is still going to be a lot higher.  Most people base their decision on the monthly mortgage payment.
I think there will be plenty of buyers in the market for quite a while.  A lot of the older millennials have outgrown their starter homes and will be looking for a house like you have in Chilesburg.  The Gen Z buyers are entering the market now and from what I have read, will be 27% of the population.  These are people that will be buying based on a need, not just because they want to nicer house.  One thing I learned from living through the worst real estate market in history is that first time buyers drive the market.  It’s like a baseball game where the bases are loaded.  Every player standing on a base has a house to sell before they can buy their next one.  The first time buyer comes to bat, hits the ball and because they don’t have a house to sell, everybody on a base gets to move to the next one.
So, in Lexington, I think the limited supply due to people staying in their homes longer, the lack of new construction and the number of young buyer will keep our market strong.
Probably the single greatest threat to all of this would be if we saw crazy inflation and rates skyrocketed like they did in the 80s.  If that happens, the houses over $400k would be much harder to sell.  The cheaper houses should be safe because what will happen is that you will see first time buyers competing with all the buyers for smaller, affordable houses.