By NICOLE MURRAY
As more people consider jumping into the housing market this year, what do they need to know?
The Mortgage Note set out to answer this question, talking to industry leaders and three people who recently purchased a home to get their opinions.
Kevin Wu, who bought his first home in 2020, started looking at potential properties with his fiancé just as the real estate market started to transform. The couple looked at almost 15 houses and found their forever home when interest rates were 3.3% in a rather unique experience.
“The home we bought was under contract with an approved offer but for whatever reason, they allowed us to look and even place an offer,” said Wu. “They ended up rejecting the first offer and accepting ours. No way would a scenario like this play out now.”
Tyler Malinowski started his homebuying journey with his wife at the end of 2020 but wasn’t as lucky. Low interest rates and a surge of people migrating away from cities resulted in the duo searching for ten months with no luck. They encountered massive lines at open houses and homes on the market were receiving offers way over the asking price. By mid-2021, they paused their search.
The couple resumed house hunting in December of 2022 with a new realtor. Interest rates were high, and prices of homes were continuously rising. They ended up placing an offer below asking for a home that had sat on the market for months. By offering an extended closing, the deal was done.
“I don’t think we would have been able to afford this house two years ago when we first started looking,” said Malinowski. “There were still bidding wars and offers for over asking. We just got lucky with the right house at the right time.”
Chelsea, who asked that her last name be withheld, and her fiancé started their home search in March of 2023 and did not successfully seal a deal until June despite seeing houses every weekend.
“We were outbid on multiple homes even though we would offer over asking. Just know that it is rough out there. Be mentally prepared to start the process,” she said.
Chelsea bought her first home back in 2017 amid a calmer real estate market where she could offer well below a home’s asking price and never once found it necessary to waive inspections or appraisals.
On the flip side, Chelsea, who recently sold her first home, says being a seller in this market is a nightmare.
“The first weekend after our home hit the market, we had 20 offers, but things fell through because of coding issues. Fast forward a few months later and I was lucky to get one offer at the asking price. I had to let it go for $15K below what I wanted because it just sat there on the market,” she said.
Despite the difficulties, Chelsea said being a homeowner is worth it.
“Real estate is one of the most promising investments you can make no matter when you decide to buy. My home’s value has already increased after completing various updates. The grass is not greener if you wait,” she said.
What about interest rates?
Interest rates for mortgages have been blamed for keeping people on the sidelines when it comes to home purchases, but Jason Perkins, cofounder and president of CRM software Bonzo, says they should not be the sole factor used when deciding if it is time to buy.
“Waiting for interest rates to drop is like planning your future with a fortune teller,” Perkins explained. “The narrative that rates are the end all, be all, factor behind someone’s decision to buy a house is simply not true. Explain the full picture to your clients because education helps build trust.”
Jules Zaphire, a real estate professional at The Pantiga Group, acknowledges that climbing interest rates can make purchasing a home more costly. However, he believes building equity and having the option to eventually refinance far outweighs any reason one would choose to wait.
“If you buy now, you won’t have to compete with an influx of buyers when prices calm down,” Zaphire said. “You never know, prices could go even higher. Plus, your home could spike in value during the time you might have waited.”
Gabriella Lisi, a realtor associate at RE/MAX Revolution, warns clients that the market will transform into a much more competitive landscape when interest rates do finally drop. She says waiting to buy because of high interest rates is a risky move because the “perfect market” will never come.
“If interest rates go down, home values go up and buyers end up paying over asking because of the influx in the market,” said Lisi. “That’s when I must waive appraisals and inspections just for offers to be taken seriously. It’s a double-edged sword no matter what interest rates are doing. Take your pick.”
Here are some tips to help prospective buyers:
Stick to a budget
Knowing your budget and sticking to it is important, Malinowski said.
“I’ve had friends who go above their budget and then instantly regret it,” he said. “You don’t want the house to own your lifestyle. If the homes in your price range are not matching what you need, then hold off and keep saving so you know it will be worth every penny.”
Hold off on buying if your goals with the property are short-term
Wu said buying a starter home may not be worth it.
“If you are looking for a starter home, I would wait because you won’t be there long enough to see a return on your investment. You can save up in the meantime and put yourself in the position to be able to afford your forever home in a few years. Plus, you would skip the starter home step and save money on realtor fees,” he said.
Have a real estate agent you can trust
“The first time around we had a realtor who just wanted us to close on the first deal we found,” Malinowski said. “When we resumed our search, we went with a different real estate agent who was clearly more concerned with helping us find the best home for us long term. I was not second-guessing decisions and actually came to enjoy the process. I have always wondered how things would have turned out if we had an agent we trusted from the start.”
Survey the area to avoid buyer’s remorse
“Panic buying in this market can be very common because of high demand and low inventory,” Chelsea said. “If your decision feels rushed, it is probably not the time. Drive around the neighborhood to see what you think of the area. Do you like the vibe? Are there places to go out if you are more social? Is the food scene diverse enough? If you lose the home you are looking at because you want to do additional research, just know there will always be other homes.”
Ask for an inspection
Malinowski said waiving inspections could have resulted in his entire life savings being invested into a dead-end home.
“We almost bought a few homes that we backed out of because of major issues discovered during the inspection process,” Malinowski said. “One house’s garage was sinking, and another had issues with the structural foundation. Try to buy now while inspections are tolerated on the market because otherwise, you could end up in a disastrous situation.”
Have an emergency fund
“Have extra money that you won’t dip into with the purchase of the house,” Wu said. “There are a lot of unpredictable costs during the first year of homeownership that we did not calculate when buying. The well water system had to be replaced for $4,500. The septic had to be drained. If you don’t have money to fall back on, hold off and keep saving.”
Don’t give up
If waiting ultimately seems like the best decision, Perkins stresses not to give up.
“For those who can’t afford to buy now, keep saving,” Perkins said. “Everything about the housing market is constantly evolving, so you never know when opportunity will present itself. Stick with it, and you will eventually find the house you love.”
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