Are you waiting for that elusive ‘best’ moment?

#417 in a series of true experiences in real estate
February 2003, Hills Newspapers

“What’s the market like now?” people ask. “Is it really slow?”

So far this year, things seem to be brisk. We haven’t seen signs of a turndown. But who knows? Anything we (or anyone else) says is only a guess.

“But it can’t keep going up forever?” we are asked, and agents also ask one another.

For several years now, maybe as long as ten years, this question has been on the lips of both observers and market participants. Many feel that the market surely must stall soon. Some, especially buyers, frustrated in their inability to purchase what they want, decided to take a rest, to postpone buying until things become more reasonable.

“No point in buying at the top of the market,” is what they say. “We’ll wait.”

Sometimes it was sellers who were so worried that they rushed to sell. “The market’s going to crash,” they told their agents. “I need to get my house sold immediately.”

So far, these buyers and sellers have both been wrong. The market in our area went right on rising. It might still be rising, we don’t know. And we won’t know until it has already occurred, when we can look back and be sure. A year ago prices were lower, the year before, lower still. The wisdom of hindsight being perfect, there are certainly buyers who wish they’d bought before now as well as sellers who see that they sold too soon.

It’s a new year and right now, there isn’t a lot of inventory but generally, what is available is selling. We’re already aware, only barely into February, of multiple offers on houses and of a number selling at prices over asking.

Actually, this is not surprising because they are the first sales of the year. It is frequently the case that the first houses to appear on the market in a given year attract much attention. Probably this is because some buyers who took time off during the holidays are operating with new resolve. They’re determined to buy, and it is that determination that is driving the early-year sales.

Have you noticed that the media offer only two sorts of stories about houses sales? The first is that sales are down. This story appears on and off throughout the year, every year. “Buyer’s market” the stories promise.

At the same time, sometimes in a different paper or newscast on the very same day, the headline is: “Home sales up, unprecedented rise in prices.”

Both these versions come so frequently, and seem so like the ones that preceded them, that Anet asks, “Are they canned? Does the media re-run them on a pre-set schedule? It appears that we keep hearing same-old, same-old reportage no matter what is actually occurring in the marketplace.”

So what to do now? That’s really the question. If you were planning to buy, should you buy now, or wait? If you intended to sell, is this a good time?

About all we can tell you is that we are here, all of us, in this place and time, now. Therefore, if your plans are based on reasonable premises, going ahead with them very likely does make sense.

How would you (or anyone) ever know when the best moment for buying or selling would be? The most you could hope for is knowing after that moment occurs, and then it’s likely to be too late.

So, it seems to us, that you should review your own reasons for buying or selling. For example, is it your expectation that you’ll be staying in a house you buy for awhile? Are you optimistic about having a job? After buying, will you still have enough money to spend on other things you want – vacations, for instance? Will your life be made better by buying?

If you are selling your residence, why are you selling? Do you have another place to live? What will you gain by selling? What will it cost you to sell, relocate, buy again? Have you examined alternatives that may work as well for you such as staying put and remodeling?

If you do conclude that buying or selling is what you intend to do this year – or any year – devote your time and energy to doing so. The more involved you are, the more likely it is that you will accomplish your goal.

This is not a time when buying or selling is passive. These days it is unrealistic to expect, as was true in some times past, to be driven to a few available houses by your agent, walk through them, then choose one you like and buy it. You’ll need to be more involved, to get your finances in order, to learn about disclosures, house construction and repairs. And you will need to take time to collaborate with your agent on strategies for getting the house you choose.

Sellers, at least smart ones, do not simply sign a listing agreement and wait for a buyer. They work with their agents to make their houses market ready, have inspections made, think carefully about pricing. And they must know where they will be going next and how and when they’ll get there.

Probably by this summer we’ll know whether February or March 2003 was an optimum time to buy or sell. Are you jumping in now?

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