You’ve Been Lied To: The Scottsdale Real Estate Market Does Not Favor Buyers

The current Scottsdale Real Estate market does not favor buyers.  I repeat, the current Scottsdale Real Estate market does not favor buyers.

Allow me to explain.  For months, if not years, you have been told that the glut of housing inventory here in the greater Phoenix area makes for a buyer’s market of epic proportions. Why, the ancient Greeks themselves would write songs about the opportunities that abound for any would-be hero with a hankering for a house.  The only problem with this suggestion?  It’s just not true.

What is a buyer’s market?  Most would define it as a preponderance of available supply and an accompanying dearth of demand.  Let’s take a look at both aspects of that equation.

In a perfect financial world, a buyer waits for the market stars to align in just such a manner before swooping in to claim a nest at a fraction of the “normal” cost.  It all works great in theory, but real world application necessitates that the prospective buyer be subjected to the same set of variables that has drawn down the pool of demand at large. It’s a buyer’s market when few have the wherewithal to actually buy.

Appraisal difficulties and tightened lending regulations are contributing to a somewhat artificial suppression of demand. The “want” is present in the market. Consumers want to buy houses. They want to take advantage of the greatly reduced pricing and sublimely low interest rates. Homeowners want to refinance their houses so that they can stay in them, thus contributing to the lowering of the overall supply.

Want has nothing to do with it. Without ability, all of the consumer confidence and desire does not translate to actionable demand.

So to clarify the lead-in to this post, the current Scottsdale Real Estate market does not favor ALL prospective buyers, as the “buyer’s market” connotation suggests.

Further, the favorable conditions for those who are in positions to purchase do not necessarily translate to negotiable strength. Well-heeled cash buyers, W2 employees with verifiable income, solid credit history/scores, etc will find that they do not call the shots to the extent that they were led to believe. The bargain bin of bank-owned foreclosures is incredibly crowded. You are elbow to elbow with competing consumers when a new shipment arrives. The mom & pop resellers, by and large, do not have the equitable flexibility to negotiate the 30-50% off of list price that many buyers envision. The short sale properties with the absurdly low price tags are, more often than not, pie-in-the-sky figments of the listing agent’s imagination. You submit an offer 10% off list price to the bank, which in turn proves to be 40% off the BPO (Broker’s Price Opinion) that is performed three months later. The bank tells you they will gladly approve the sale – for 75k more than you offered.

While the inflated inventory levels in the housing sector are cited often enough, it is not widely reported that the number of unencumbered properties available for purchase is far less.  In a market that is most assuredly not of the “see house, buy house” variety, the redaction of readily purchasable properties (due to competition in the low end, and lien encumbrances across the full pricing spectrum) tilts the negotiation playing field back towards center.  Neither party has a clear cut advantage when facing each other at the negotiating table.

The truth of the matter is that most of the savings that you can expect to uncover have already been factored into the asking price by the time a listing is brought to market. Sure, there will be those that require substantial negotiation, and plenty others still that simply fail to sell. Never underestimate one’s ability to overprice a house. These aren’t the homes you are most likely looking at, though. The ones that buyers are flocking to in droves are those that present the best value opportunities. And why not? Just be prepared for the competition that you did not think existed in this ballyhooed “buyer’s market.”

Trying to cobble “x” percent off the list price in circumstances in which others are offering “x” above the list price will only lead to frustration.  Don’t get greedy.  Do what it takes to lock up the lowest pricing the Valley has seen for seven to eight years (longer in some areas) while interest rates continue to hover around 5%, and you are well ahead of the game.

And lastly … smile.  You are the guy that so many lament not being right now.  You know, the hypothetical guy who spurs such proclamations at office parties and cocktail hours all across Scottsdale:

“If I had two nickels to rub together right now, I’d buy every house on my block for less than I paid for this albatross back in ‘05.”

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Paradise Lost

“You mean, it’s ours? It’s really ours?”

They were so excited. Even after I handed them the keys, they were slow to believe that the modest Spanish bungalow was now in their adoptive custody. Over the course of four exasperating months, we must have seen and dismissed close to a hundred homes. This one needed too much work. That one had a poor kitchen layout. Yet another sat on the “t” of a subdivision’s entrance: bad feng shui, or so I was told. Before the market skies parted and yielded the seventeen hundred square foot, clay tile miracle that appeared to have met extinction in their price range, our flagging spirits were all but ready to pack it in. The May 5th, 2005 discovery saved them from another year of apartment living. A challenge, at best, with a ten year old daughter, let alone with a half-baked bun in the oven.

“Can we go in,” the wife asked in a small, cautious voice.

“Of course,” I responded. “It’s your house, Liz, you can do whatever you please.”

She ignored my extended hand and engulfed me in a fierce hug. Her husband clasped my shoulder in a vice grip which betrayed an adolescence spent laboring on the family farm in Iowa. His curt nod spoke volumes.

“You’re welcome, Mel,” I replied.

“Thank you both for hanging in there with me. I know it hasn’t been easy, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the patience and trust you’ve shown. It’s been a long, tough slog, but I think we got it right.”

“Yes, we did,” Mel said, breaking his silence for the first and only time that morning.

“We would like to have you and your wife over as soon as we get settled,” Liz added.

“I’d like that,” I told her.

I meant it, too. I like just about every client I take on, but felt a special kinship with this couple for reasons that surpassed the extended time spent in each other’s company. After bidding the happy couple farewell, I glanced in the rearview as I navigated my way down the tree-lined street. Instead of going inside, they remained rooted in place, holding hands and staring at their new home.

I received a phone call from Liz this morning. Turns out that Mel has been out of work for some time now, and they cannot afford to keep the house. Might have to move back to the Midwest and look for a position on the farm. See just what kind of life is left in those gnarled, old leather hands.

I hate this job sometimes.

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Options for Would-Be Sellers in a Difficult Market

In today’s topsy turvy Real Estate market, many potential players have been scared to the sidelines. Whether it be the buyer who worries that prices will continue to plummet across the boards, or the seller who laments the inability to fetch the same price that was attainable a year ago, there is a lot of market watching going on right now. To be sure, these are unusual times. Before you let the condition of the market at large dictate whether or not you buy or sell Real Estate, though, bear in mind that there is opportunity amidst chaos. Just as the worst investments are often made in the best of times, the best investments are often made in times such as those we are experiencing today.

We all know that buying low and selling high is the name of the game. The difficulty comes in recognizing the apex and the nadir. If it were really doable, we’d all be billionaires. As this determination is only truly made in hindsight, the key is to make the current market work for you, rather than standing around and waiting for the mythical “bottom” as a buyer or “top” as a seller.

So, how does one not only survive, but thrive as a consumer in this tough market? By making purchasing and selling decisions based upon a comprehensive strategy rather than treating each as isolated transactions. Assess your situation, and decide whether the current market will provide enough positives to offset the negatives. Here are a few such strategies that just might make a move feasible after all.

The Move Up Purchase:

Sweet Pad!

The move up buyer is tailor made for this market. Provided that you are looking to stay within the same market, if home values in your area have declined by 10% (purely arbitrary figure), that larger home that you have had your eye on is closer to your reach than ever. If your $300,000 home took a 10% hit, and the $500,000 home of your dreams took a 10% hit, the value difference just shrunk by $20,000 (30k versus 50k in depreciation). Such homeowners need to stop considering themselves as sellers. They are buyers in sellers’ clothing. That too-small home is all that stands between you and the tremendous deals that are available today. Price it right, take your lumps, and you will free yourself to go give somebody a few lumps of their own.

The Downsizing Scenario:

Downsizing to a smaller, less expensive home does not make good financial sense in this market. The factors which work to the consumer’s advantage in the scenario above work to the detriment of the consumer here. But what about the retired couple who doesn’t want to wait for the market to rebound? One way to get on with their lives without taking it in the shorts by selling right now is to consider leasing the home. Assuming that many people in this position will have a substantial amount of equity in their homes, they might even be in a position to draw a positive cash flow by renting out their existing home. They would also be in a position to draw down payment funds for the home they wish to purchase in the form of a home equity line of credit (HELOC). This is about the only scenario in which I would entertain the notion of drawing equity out of a property right now. I have spoken with a few retirees lately who wish to downsize, but don’t want to sell in the current market. I don’t blame them one bit. Putting a tenant in their homes until the market is more conducive to commanding a more attractive sales price may be the way to go.

A More Battered Local Economy (AMBLE):

For the person moving completely out of area, it wouldn’t appear to be a very attractive proposition. You get hammered on the selling end without getting to reap the rewards on the buying side. So what to do? Move somewhere that has gotten hit even harder by the depreciation bug than your community. I admit, this is really more flippant than realistic, but if there are job transfers, family, etc. waiting in hard hit parts of the country, you can conceivably offset the low sales price of your current home with a lucrative buy.

INVEST, INVEST, INVEST!

We should have held out for ocean front Real Estate!Along with the move up purchase, this is the biggest no-brainer going. With bank owned property listings, inflated inventory levels and a buyer pool diminished by tightened lending requirements, there has not been a better time to be a buyer since the Gadsden Purchase.

While the resale market at large may have further to fall in value, there is really nowhere left to go for some of the bank property bargains I have encountered lately. There is significant demand for the low end of the price spectrum, with multiple offers, cash buyers and bidding wars in some instances. So when you hear that prices may fall another 10-20% across the board, it’s not going to be on the steals. These properties may pull values down closer to them, but there is too much demand for the low end to keep falling in my humble opinion. There are great values in land right now as builders have basically shut down until they sell off existing inventory. Single family homes are attractive to many as a tenant can largely offset carrying costs. It is a great time to have a few extra bucks in your jeans if Real Estate investment is in your blood.

There are more creative avenues to be explored in this market, but for the purposes of this post, I’ll stick with the basics. The bottom line is that you can benefit from the current market with the right strategy. Money is not only made by tucking more in your jeans, but by taking less of it out as well. There is no such thing as a “BAD” market, nor a “GOOD” market. There is only the market. It’s up to you to bend it to suit your purposes.

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