02/08/2012Is a real estate recovery underway? That depends on the neighborhood, real estate specialists say.
"This is the most mixed market I've ever seen," says John Rygiol, a real estate broker affiliated with the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (www.naeba.org).
In some areas where joblessness is high and foreclosures numerous, sales are slow. Yet in other neighborhoods where the local economy is more robust, bidders are competing for the best properties.
"More people are starting to buy now because they believe prices are at the bottom. In some cases that's translating to multiple bids for the same house," Rygiol says.
He contends another factor also helping strengthen the real estate market is the upcoming presidential election.
"Mortgage rates are extremely low right now but some people worry they could go up after November if a new president moves into the White House," Rygiol says.
He says another factor helping many neighborhoods is that more people are now buying owner-occupied homes and converting them to rental units, taking advantage of low home prices.
Even so, the supply-demand ratio remains unfavorable for home sellers in communities where jobs are scarce and foreclosure rates are high, says Sid Davis, a longtime real estate broker and author of "A Survival Guide for Selling a Home.
Whether you're seeking to buy in a community where numerous homes are on the market or very few, Davis says you're likely to do well if you're careful to set your search criteria and screen homes in advance.
"It doesn't matter if the market is cool or hot where you're looking to buy. You'll always get the best possible deal on the best available house if you're very clear what you want and are decisive in grabbing it when you find it," Davis says.
Here are a few pointers for homebuyers:
Sort your options on the basis of square footage.
Very large houses are now less popular than they were in the past, due to rising energy costs and tighter family budgets for home repairs. Yet the number of square feet in a home remains a useful standard of measurement, especially for buyers trying to compare very similar properties on the basis of price, Rygiol says.
"The price per square foot is a key benchmark factor," he maintains.
Though it's surprising to many homebuyers, Rygiol says it's common to find that a small home could cost significantly more per square foot than a mid-sized property in the same neighborhood. Yet as time passes, the mid-sized home should be worth more.
If the square footage isn't included in the listing, Rygiol advises that buyers not be shy in asking their real estate agent to provide the measurement.
Factor in bathroom count when deciding which homes to visit.
Years ago it was common for multiple members of a household to share the same bathroom. Fewer people resented the need to wait their turn to take their daily shower or bath. Yet as Rygiol notes, the current ideal is for each member of a household to have his or her own bathroom.
"Ideally you'll find a place with at least two or three full bathrooms. Going forward, a house with more bathrooms will be a much better bet for resale," he says.
Consider homes within their neighborhood context.
One online tool for placing homes within the context of their surroundings is Google Maps, which uses satellite imagery to pinpoint the location of a property.
"This way you can automatically see how a house is set within its neighborhood. For example, without even going out to visit the house, you can quickly see if it's facing a busy street or a heavily traveled freeway," Rygiol says.
Though the aerial view of a property from a computer can be useful, Rygiol says it's no substitute for another screening method: driving or walking by the property.
Favor properties with "good bones."
When architects say a home has "good bones," they mean it's structurally sound and well designed. Likely they also mean it has energy-efficient windows, along with cost-saving heating and cooling systems.
Selecting one of these properties typically gets you more for your money than a place that's appealing on the surface yet has fundamental problems.
"Often, you can get a terrific deal on a property with 'good bones,' but only superficial issues. It's not expensive to repaint the interior or have new carpet installed. But it costs a huge amount to fix core problems, like bad pipes or wiring," Davis says.
Compare floor plans in terms of your lifestyle needs.
The floor plan of a property has many implications for the comfort of a household and whether or not you'll enjoy living there, Davis says.
Many people with young children like an informal floor plan with an eat-in kitchen that flows directly into an open family room. But many older couples put more of a premium on a formal dining room where they can entertain.
When visiting potential properties, Davis suggests you trust your instincts about how each place feels to you.
"Emotion is a big element in home buying. I can't tell you how many times clients have walked into a house and immediately announced 'We want this one.' It's really spooky how often that happens," he says. ** ** **