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Secrets for Timing the Real Estate Market

Beating the Market by Timing Home Buying / Selling

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Timing the Real Estate Market

It's almost impossible to time the real estate market.

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It's likely that billionaire real estate tycoons such as New York's Donald Trump, Chicago's Sam Zell and Santa Barbara's Tom Barrack would collectively agree that nobody can time the real estate market, not even them. This may leave you wondering: If the pros can't time the market, how can you?

For starters, you can employ the same techniques that have worked for many who live by the creed: Buy low and sell high. The first step is to determine the type of real estate market that exists in your town.

Types of Real Estate Markets

Although there are many variations and twists, basically real estate markets fall into three categories:

  • Buyer's markets
    Buyer's markets exist when there is more inventory, meaning houses for sale, than buyers. Because buyers have many homes to choose from, not every home for sale will sell. Most experts agree that if six months or more of inventory is on the market, it is a buyer's market. Also note that in buyer's markets, fewer numbers of buyers will result in fewer sales, which can skew median prices.

  • Seller's markets
    Conversely, in seller's markets, there are more buyers than available inventory. Because there are fewer homes for buyers to choose among, almost every home will sell. Typically, there is much less than six months of inventory in a seller's market. In extreme seller's markets, there is less than two months of inventory in reserve.

  • Neutral markets
    Neutral markets are balanced. Typically, interest rates are affordable and the number of buyers and sellers in the marketplace are equalized. The scales don't tip in either direction, meaning the market is normal without experiencing volatile swings. Inventory is generally around four months, give or take.

    Note that good buys exist in neutral markets, but there are no overall indications that favor buyers over sellers or vice versa.

Buying in a Buyer's Market

If you are going to buy a home and can afford to wait for primo conditions, a buyer's market is it; there is no better timing. Here are a few advantages to buying in a buyer's market:

  • Lower sales price
    Sellers are more willing to wheel and deal because they know if they refuse to accept your purchase offer, they might not receive another. When fewer homes are selling, prices typically fall.

  • Buyers can command concessions
    Buyers can ask sellers to pay their closing costs, providing their lender will allow the credit. Buyers can also expect sellers will pay for special reports such as pest inspections or roof certifications and a home warranty.

  • Contingent offers are more acceptable
    Sellers are generally more agreeable to accepting a contingent offer that is dependent on the buyer selling the buyer's existing home. An offer in the hand is better than no offer at all.

  • Request for repairs easily negotiated
    If the home is in need of repairs or updating its systems, sellers will often credit the buyer for the repairs or fix the problem(s) noted by a home inspector.

  • Buyers control the transaction
    Buyers can ask for longer inspection periods, extend closing deadlines and ask for early possession -- terms that would be automatically rejected in a seller's market.

Buying in a Seller's Market

If a buyer has no urgency to buy a home, it's not a good idea to buy in a seller's market. Here are a few disadvantages to buying a home in a seller's market:

  • Top price
    Multiple offers are common. Sellers command list price and get it.

  • No concessions
    Sellers are reluctant to pay any of the buyer's closing costs or pay for inspections.

  • Contingent offers rarely happen
    Seller don't want to wait for a buyer's home to sell.

  • Request for repairs are not honored
    Sellers will typically tell buyers to purchase the home "as is."

  • Sellers control the transaction
    Most sellers will not bend from the original contract, regardless of circumstances, because there are three more buyers around the corner.

Selling in a Buyer's Market

If a seller does not need to sell, there is no logical reason to put a home on the market in a buyer's market. Here are disadvantages to selling in a buyer's market:

  • Lowball offers
    Sellers in soft markets lose equity. Little demand for homes puts pressure on sales prices, causing buyers to make lowball offers.

  • Buyers expect concessions
    Buyers will ask sellers to pay for closing costs, thereby lowering the seller's net proceeds.

  • Contingent offers are riskier
    If a buyer's home does not sell, neither will the seller's, and by that time, the number of buyers typically dwindle even more.

  • Buyers demand repairs
    All those little things sellers have put off repairing will pop up in the home inspection, and buyers expect sellers to fix them.

  • Sellers do not control the transaction
    Buyers tend to ask for "out" clauses that would let them walk away from the deal all the way to closing.

Selling in a Seller's Market

This is the best time to be a home seller. Here are a few advantages to selling in a seller's market:

  • Higher sales price
    The list-to-sales-price ratios are lower in seller's markets, meaning sellers command higher prices, sometimes over list.

  • Concession refusals
    Sellers refuse to pay buyer's closing costs, and they often reject offers asking for seller-paid inspections.

  • Contingent offers are rare
    Buyers find it easier to sell their homes and realize sellers will not agree to a contingent offer with 10 buyers in the wings.

  • Buyers rarely request repairs
    Buyers still obtain home inspections but forego a request for repairs, accepting the property "as is."

  • Sellers control the transaction
    It's common for sellers to negotiate shorter inspection periods and to demand buyers waive certain contingencies such as appraisal or loan contingencies.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, DRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.

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