Supply in demand

Inventory is low in many areas, so the perfect home is tough to find. But buyers who know exactly what they want are at an advantage.

By Marilyn Kennedy Melia CTW Features

Homebuyers: Are you serious? In this nascent housing recovery, the supply of homes for sale is low in many areas.

At the end of 2012, reports the National Association of Realtors, the number of housing units for sale was the lowest in more than a decade.

Many expect more owners to stake a “For Sale” sign once they see how quickly other signs in the neighborhood are replaced with “Sold” banners.

But for now, real estate agents and recent purchasers say home buyers need to know what they want, be creative about how to find it, and act quickly to get it.

An attractive home garners lots of interest, says David McIlvane, an associate broker with Keller Williams and former president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors. “I just had an open house for a four-bedroom home in a good school district … I arrived 10 minutes before it was scheduled to start, and there were already five buyers lined up outside.”

Yes, there is competition for properties, but a home is a major purchase and buyers should be wary of a rushed decision, warns Suzanne Fogel, a DePaul University professor who’s an expert in consumer behavior. “Have a checklist of the features you must have in a home,” she advises. “If a home doesn’t have [those features], don’t sway. And don’t let an attractive feature you didn’t put a priority on grab your attention and make you overlook what you need in a home.”

For more choices that do meet your criteria, some tips on widening the field.

Simply ask

“We wanted a home in a specialized development that had about 1,000 homes, and not one was for sale,” says Michael Crews of Escondido, Calif.

So, Crews made an offer to his two kids: Place a flyer on every door explaining that their family wanted to buy a home in that neighborhood. To ensure that not a home was missed, Crew offered $500 to each kid, should a seller step forward.

“We got a call from a man who was retiring,” Crews says. The note was the prompt he needed, and the deal quickly closed.

When a buyer makes the initial contact, it begs the questions: Does the seller get the upper hand in negotiations since the buyer is eager?

Not really, says Juan R. Aracena of JRNYC Properties. The New York City broker explains that mortgage lenders will need comparable sales, and buyers can’t get financing if they are paying significantly more than the recent sale prices for similar homes.

Set alerts

New real estate listings can pop up many times a day; it depends on when the listing agent sits down and enters the information in the “multiple listing service,” or MLS, shared by real estate agents.

Again, buyers who know what features they want are at an advantage. An agent can set parameters so that as soon as a listing pops up matching a buyer’s specifications, an email alert is sent, explains Casey Cooke, with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, San Diego.

Look back

Supplies are low now, but a couple of years ago, large inventories languished in many areas, and discouraged sellers gave up and took their homes off the market.

“As an agent, I normally would solicit expired listings from one or two weeks ago, but with the scarcity of homes, I have had to go as far back as a year,” Aracena says.

Especially when they hear their home is now in demand by a buyer or buyers, the seller may decide to re-list, Aracena says.

© CTW Features