If you’ve ever taken up running, you might know what it’s like to strap on your new shoes, head over to the track and take those first few strides, then feel a pain in your chest, heaviness in your feet and possibly, actually see stars. Maybe your last steps off the track were accompanied by the thought process: “Either I’m crazy, or runners are.”
Until you have talked to a legitimate, dyed in the wool runner and told them your story, explaining why you detest running with every iota of your being you won’t know the runner’s secret: everyone feels that way at first. It’s the normal physiological adjustment to the increased load you’re putting on your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems, this pain you felt when you took those first few steps. It goes away in just a moment, if and only if you keep on running.
Sometimes, knowing that others react to a tough situation by feeling the same emotions, thinking the same thoughts, or doing the same things you do flat out helps you feel less crazy, panicked and out of control of your situation. It’s the concept behind support groups but, last I checked, there really isn’t such a thing as group therapy for home buyers. (Well, some would say that’s what Trulia Voices is for, but I digress.)
Today’s rapidly rising prices and generally volatile market does make things tough for buyers, so we thought we’d systematically explore – and then share – what’s going on inside the minds of the buyers on today’s market. Hopefully, sellers will find some insights for marketing their properties, too.
Fresh off the presses, here are some of the insights and takeaways from our latest American Dream Survey, pinpointing the things today’s buyers worry about, will and won’t do in their quest to get their own corner of the American Dream: a home.
Worry: Mortgage rates and prices will rise before I buy. Trulia’s Economist Jed Kolko reports that “the top worry among all survey respondents who might buy a home someday is that mortgage rates will rise further before they buy (41%), followed by rising prices (37%).” The worry is valid, given the fact that the market was depressed for so long and has a long recovery road ahead of it. It’s compounded by the fact that buying a home has gone from something that used to take a month or two and now routinely takes 6 months, 9 months, a year or even longer!
Here’s the deal: you can’t stop prices from rising. And fixating on this particular fear poses the potential pitfall of rushing to buy or making compromises that will turn out badly in the end. Don’t dilly dally, if you’re ready and in the market, and don’t mess around making lowball offers with no chance of success. But otherwise, don’t let this fear drive your buying and timing decisions.
Will: Be aggressive. B. E. Aggressive. Economist Kolko explained, “among survey respondents who plan to buy a home someday, 2 in 3 (66%) would use aggressive tactics such as bidding above asking, writing personal letters to the seller, or removing contingencies, to name a few.” What buyers do and don’t do in the name of aggressively pursuing their dream homes (and, consequently, what sellers expect) is slightly different in every town.
Knowing that other buyers are facing down the same challenges you are and coming up with similar, aggressive solutions can help you feel a little less crazy about your thought processes and emotions and the desperate measures that come to mind when you hear how many others think “your” home is their dream home. And that puts you back in control of what can sometimes feel like an out-of-control situation. Reality check: you are 100% in the driver’s seat when it comes to how aggressive you want to be in your pursuit of any given home, and which specific tactics you leverage in the course of that pursuit.
Worry: I won’t find a home I like. Forty-three percent of people who plan to buy a home in the next 12 months expressed the concern that they might not be able to even find a property they like. Perhaps these people were just seriously persnickety, but I suspect there’s a bigger issue at play here. All of us can find a home we like, but whether there’s anything we like enough to buy in our price range is a completely separate issue.
This worry, then, seems to be closely related to the fear of rising prices – buyers are rightfully fearful that home value increases will put their personal dream homes out of their price range. This is why it’s super important to:
- be aggressive about seeing suitable properties as soon as they come onto the market
- work with an agent whose offer pricing advice you trust
- adjust your house hunt downward in price range if the market dynamics include lots of over-asking sales prices, and
- not to let months and months go by while you make lowball offers or otherwise be slow to come to the reality of what homes are actually selling for in your area.
The sooner you put yourself seriously in the game and make reality-based offers, the more likely you’ll be able to score a home you like in your price range.
Worry: I will have to compete with other buyers for the home I like. Twenty-seven percent of those who plan to buy at some point in the future and 32% of those who plan to buy in the next year said they feared the prospect of facing a bidding war. This worry is well-grounded. In California, the average property receives four offers – but stories of dozens of offers abound. And it’s not just a West Coast phenomenon: buyers from coast to coast trade tales of getting outbid and having to throw in their firstborn child, lastborn puppy and most precious earthly possessions just to get into contract.
Truth is, market dynamics vary from town to town, and even neighborhood to neighborhood, but if you’re buying on today’s market or planning to buy anytime soon, bidding wars, multiple offers and over-asking sales prices are a reality you will probably have to factor into your house hunt.
Won’t: Bid way more than asking. Only 9 percent of wanna-be buyers said they would bid between 6 and 10 percent over the asking price for a property. This finding surfaces the uber-importance of checking in with an experienced local agent to get a briefing on precisely how much over asking homes are selling for in your area. This empowers you to tweak your online house hunting price range low enough that you can make an over-asking offer and be successful without breaking the bank. And once you’ve gotten a reality-based estimate of the over-asking norm, it will loom less ominously in your mind’s eye as a potential American Dream-killer.
Worry: I won’t qualify for a mortgage. Thirty percent of all people who identified themselves as planning to buy a home in the future said they were worried they might not be able to qualify for a home loan. (Interestingly, only 25 percent of buyers in hot markets like Oakland and Las Vegas expressed this concern – rapidly rising prices and knowing lots of other buyers are closing transactions in your town seems to ease this fear.)
Of all the worries on the list, this is the one over which a smart buyer has the most power. So exercise it! Work with a mortgage broker who was referred by friends, family members or an agent you trust. And ideally, work with them months – even a year or more – before you plan to buy. They can help you put an action plan in place around boosting your savings and credit score, and minimize your debt and credit dings, that you can work to minimize mortgage qualifying dramas when the time is right. They can also help give you a stronger sense of what you can afford vis-a-vis your income, to help you anticipate any challenges related to what sort of home your dollar will buy in your market.
ALL: What worries do you have about today’s market? Which steps are you willing to take in your quest to achieve the American Dream?