Not a Friendly Place for First-Time Buyers.

May 3, 2012

Outside the Comfort Zone.

Last week we talked about how difficult the current competitive real estate market is for the move-up buyers in San Carlos.  Many of these homeowners are effectively land-locked in their existing homes, simply because they can't find a home to move up to.  And when they do find one, they can't put together a competitive offer because many of them have to sell their existing home first.

But move-up buyers aren't the only ones feeling the pain.  There's another very significant group in the real estate machine that is probably not enjoying this market one bit :  The first-time buyers.

Forget about the superheated market we're in right now for a minute.  Buying a house in a normal market is still a process that pushes most buyers outside their comfort zone.  It's the single biggest check that most have ever written in their lives, so it's always accompanied with an avalanche of uncertainty,  nervousness, and a large dose of second guessing.

So when the heat gets cranked up under a market like we're experiencing now, first-time buyers get pushed even further out of their comfort zone.

Time and Space.

In a balanced real estate market, buyers can count on two elements that enable them to educate themselves on the home and therefore (hopefully) make rational decisions:  Time and space.    Buyers need time to see the home, sometimes multiple times, and to do their due diligence such as a studying a comparative price analysis, and conducting the full gamut of property inspections.  Space is just the complementary effect of not having to worry necessarily about hordes of other buyers looking at the same house at the same time.

But in the crazy market that we're experiencing now, time and space evaporate.   Most homes right now in San Carlos are selling within 2 weeks of when they hit the market — some much faster.    Today, if you wait until an open house to see the home for the first time, you may not have the time you need to understand the house, and to get comfortable with the amount of money that you're about to part with.

Time is evaporating on the back-end of the transaction too.  Instead of getting 1-2 weeks to conduct inspections, buyers are now being forced to crop the inspection time down to a matter of days.   And that's if they even have inspections done at all.  Things are getting so competitive that non-contingent offers are becoming commonplace again.

And forget about being the only one to write an offer on a home.   Even complete tear-downs are getting multiple buyers competing for the right to tear it down.

Driver's Ed.

Buying a house is somewhat analogous to learning to drive a car.   You want to tackle freeway driving for the first time perhaps on Highway 280 at about 2:00 in the afternoon, and NOT by navigating the Bay Bridge during rush hour.    But the latter is what the market looks like right now, and it's making first-time buyers feel rushed, frustrated, and VERY nervous.

But if you want to compete in this market, conventional wisdom may have to take a back seat.  Buyers who are landing homes in today's market are thinking outside the box in their approach to buying the home.

Of course many are simply spending outside the box to get what they want.

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  1. Mike on May 3, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    Thanks for this analysis of the current market conditions. As a first time home buyer, I am definitely experiencing everything you mention here.

    Do you think some of the factors causing the inventory shortage will improve in the short term? Are there any predictions in the industry or among your colleagues about what the second half of this year will look like?

    Thanks for your great blog!

  2. Cassie on May 4, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    Your last sentence says it all. Buyers are spending way out of the box and beyond their margin of financial safety. Waiving contingencies, especially if the inspection reports are done by sellers, shows the dangers of not doing due diligence. My neighbor is a prime example; $7K monthly mortgage, dry rot siding issues, retaining wall issues and a new homeowners warranty that is not being honored. The visions of a reappearing real estate bubble are slowly creeping in. So far, renting a house seems to be cheaper.

  3. Chuck Gillooley on May 5, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, I don’t see conditions improving much this year. I was involved in two different transactions this week for sub $1M properties where there were 13 and 4 offers, respectively. There’s still a tremendous imbalance between home buyers and available listings. And if the economy continues to improve, companies will be hiring and transferring more employees into the area which just makes the problem worse. The trickle of new listings that we see every week needs to become a fire hose before the market can balance itself out.


  4. Michael on May 5, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    Cassie, It may appear that similar events are starting to play out, but the banks are the ones doing the due diligence again. In spite of your neighbor’s issues, they probably have the wearwithall to do the repairs. Being approved for a $7000 mortgage (inclusive of taxes or not) requires some stability so although your neighbor may have gotten some surprises, they will probably bite the bullet and do the necessary repairs while still being able to meet their monthly oblligations.

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